Corb Lund is a proud Albertan. You don’t even need to chat with him to discover that, because it’s right there on his voice mail: “Corb Lund: Alberta, Canada.” He’s got no qualms about declaring his prairie heritage to anyone within earshot. “I’m a proud Canadian, too,” he points out, returning a missed call from his Edmonton home, “but both sides of my family have been chasing cows here for 100 years, so I’m pretty attached to the place.”
If you had to choose a musical ambassador for Alberta, you could do a lot worse than Lund. He’s been winning fans and influencing people for nearly two decades, first as bassist for punk-edged indie-rockers the smalls—who journeyed as far as Bosnia and Slovenia during their mid-’90s heyday—and then as a solo country artist who scored a Juno in 2006 for roots and traditional album of the year. That latter role has also paid off recently with another Juno nomination and his “best ever” tour of the States.
“The last few years we’ve been kinda spinnin’ our wheels,” says the man who, coincidentally, had a
Canadian hit in 2005 called “The Truck Got Stuck”. “But last year or so we’ve been hittin’ the corridor from Montana to Texas, back and forth, and it’s starting to pay off.”
It’s no surprise that folks in those parts have taken a liking to Lund’s down-home brand of country. A lot of them appreciate horses, which are the focus of his latest CD, Horse Soldier! Horse Soldier!. “I Wanna Be in the Cavalry”, “The Horse I Rode in On”, “Especially a Paint”, the old smalls song “My Saddle Horse Has Died”, and the galloping title track all pay tribute to the four-legged beastie.
Apparently, Lund lives and breathes horses, and he doesn’t seem to mind the smell. “It’s just a big part of my past is all,” he relates. “I’ve less to do with ’em now than I used to, ’cause we’re on the road all the time, but it’s a big part of my youth, and I have sort of a nostalgic attachment to all that stuff.”
On “Horse Soldier! Horse Soldier!”, the former rodeo contestant visualizes himself riding alongside everyone from Genghis Khan to General George Custer. “I’m kind of a history buff,” he explains, “and I’ve always been drawn to the glamour of the cavalry. That’s kinda how the record progresses—it starts off being quite enamoured of the idea of goin’ off to war, and then by the end of the record it’s not so much fun.”
The penultimate track, a somber reprise of “I Wanna Be in the Cavalry”, tells of horse soldiers being forced to feed on their mounts’ carcasses to survive. And then the CD closes to the solemn strains of “Taps”. The war in Afghanistan is also referred to in the title track. “Today I ride with special forces on those wily Afghan horses,” croons Lund, referring to the way some American special-ops members cross mountainous terrain in search of the Taliban.
Lund was in favour of taking out terrorist strongholds early on in the conflict, but is perplexed by Canada’s ongoing role in the war. The CD is dedicated to the memory and sacrifice of Cpl. Nathan Hornburg, an Albertan reservist killed in Afghanistan last year, “and all like him”.
“I’m completely supportive of the troops who sign up to go and do whatever their country tells ’em,” Lund relates, “but at the same time, it’s confusing to me as to how we could actually win over there in the end. I’m not sure that we can turn a 1,000-year-old blood-feud/warrior-clan culture into democracy in 10 years. I don’t know if we can do that.”
Although much of Horse Soldier! Horse Soldier! deals with military conflict, it also includes a lighthearted ditty about hanging out with kin (“Family Reunion”) and a comical tribute to Canada’s worst handyman (“Hard on Equipment [Tool For the Job]”), the kind of grease-monkey who’s “a Goddamn menace with an air nail-gun”. The music that accompanies Lund’s tales of rattling sabres and rattled relatives is often propelled by a two-step tempo or a fiddle- and accordion-driven, Celtic-tinged vibe. He’s got a wicked band called the Hurtin’ Albertans—guitarist Grant Siemens, bassist Kurt Ciesla, and drummer Brady Valgardson—that conjures a kick-ass country sound capable of attracting a diverse group of fans.
“It’s a weird mix,” he says of his audience. “One half is cowboys and rural people and the other half are sort of college-radio and underground-music fans. My background in music has always been kinda underground and punky, and I met a lot of punk-rockers who like Johnny Cash and stuff, so it’s not like a big stretch.”
Corb Lund plays the Commodore Ballroom on Wednesday and Thursday (February 20 and 21).