Album & DVD Review – Corb Lund’s “Counterfeit Blues”
When I got the news that Corb Lund was releasing a live studio album full of previously-released cuts, I’ll shoot you straight, I was a little crestfallen. Reason being is that a new original Corb Lund album is such a dollop of sweet music manna from the country gods, and he seems to never disappoint, if only grow more skilled with age, anything less than a dozen or so new songs from him and his backing band The Hurtin’ Albertans will always be a disappointment. But after swallowing the pill that we’ll have to wait patiently for some newer stuff in the future, the idea of getting an album cut live at the historic Sun Studios in Memphis, TN was something that sat quite well.
The premise for this Counterfeit Blues project is based around an hour-long documentary-style program called Memphis Sun that was produced for CMT’s Canadian channel. Corb and the boys headed down from Alberta and met a camera crew in Memphis, and cut the album in one day while the camera crew filmed along. The complete package comes with a DVD of the CMT Canada special, and a CD of many of the tracks. One of the cool things about this project is the two discs don’t really align. It’s not like if you watch the DVD, then the CD is simply an audio representation of what you just watched. Though there’s some overlap, you feel like the best video cuts made it on the DVD, and the best audio on the CD, and they were ordered in a way that made the most sense for the two different mediums, resulting in two different experiences.
Though Corb’s name is the one on the front, the whole idea of recording at Sun seems much more the brain child of his guitar and steel player Grant Siemens. He sort of introduces the project at the beginning of the DVD and talks about what the Sun sound means to him, and to music in general, and he’s also given credit as a producer. Corb and the Hurtin’ Albertans stayed true to the spirit of Sun, and cut all the songs live, with no separation, isolation, or overdubs; just one take and you better get it right. As Corb points out in the DVD, the band’s longevity, especially for one that backs a songwriter instead of going under a band name, is pretty remarkable, and has allowed them to become super tight to pull off such a feat.
The DVD is very much centered around the performances in the studio. There are some scenes interviewing Corb, guitarist Grant Siemens, and bassist Kurt Ciesla and drummer Brady Valgardson, and some other scenes showing Grant riding around in a Memphis trolley car, the band going out for some Memphis barbecue and such, but this really isn’t an in depth documentary about either the band or the studio; it’s about the music.
The track list is not exactly a Cob Lund Greatest Hits collection, though it includes a lot of his strongest material. It seems to be based more around what songs might be cool to cut at Sun, while still trying to be representative of everything Corb does. They didn’t go in there and just cut his more rockabilly or blues material, there’s quite a bit of country and some acoustic moments as well. And even though it is all “previously-released material”, unless you’re a Corb Lund mega nerd and have all of his albums alphabetized and at the ready, there’s likely something on here you’ve never heard before, while also making a good introduction to someone who has never heard Corb’s music.
The performances are excellent, and despite the pressure, the band performs all the elements and sticks the landing. And even though you may know some of this material already, you still can’t help but be blown away by the wit and wisdom engrained in Corb’s songwriting, and some of the interpretations of his compositions by the band. One of the gems of the DVD, and something you can’t get anywhere else is when they play “The Truth Comes Out” and it starts with an amazing bowed bass solo by Kurt Ciesla. Unfortunately though, the solo doesn’t show up on the song on the CD side.
Whether Counterfeit Blues is a “must-have” depends on the degree of your Corb Lundedness. But for what it is, and for not offering any new material, it is well done and worth the listen.
1 3/4 of 2 guns up.
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July 2, 2014 @ 9:00 am
I loved the album, but I would have liked to have seen some Cabin Fever material on it. “Gothest Girl I Can” would have sounded great on this album.
July 2, 2014 @ 9:47 am
“Gothiest Girl I Can” would sound great on any album. Corb has so many great songs, I would have had a lot of trouble whittling down which ones to include on a project like this.
July 2, 2014 @ 9:11 am
Sweet! Memphis is still a town that you can extract a vib from. I love it down there. Queuing this one up on my AM radio!!
July 2, 2014 @ 9:23 am
Enjoyed this one. Just different enough from the studio versions to be worth the purchase. Had a good Canada Day of music with this dropping and picking up some of the back catalog from Tim Hus. Trigger, you might want to check out his newest album “Western Star” if you’ve not given that a listen.
July 2, 2014 @ 11:14 am
Glad you like it. My copy should show up tomorrow.
I guess I’ve become a Corb Lund nerd. I bought Losing Lately Gambler and Cabin Fever when the latter came out. Then, needing to have more, I ended u[ picking up 5 Dollar Bill, Hair in My Eyes Like a Highland Steer, and Horse Solider, Horse Soldier. All of the songs in this package are from 5 Dollar Bill and Hair in My Eyes. So, this is the first time they have appeared on an American release. I was a little hesitant about buying this package, but ulitmately, I wanted to see these guys doing their thing in Sun Studios.
I recommend Corb’s “What That Song Means Now” video series, which you can find on youtube. In each episode, he discusses one of his songs. Lot of fun.
July 2, 2014 @ 11:14 am
Although my favorite building in the State of Tennessee is Ryman Auditorium, Sun Studio in Memphis may well be no. 2 in historic significance to me.
A lot of outstanding and influential musicians have started there or wandered there at some point in their careers.
July 2, 2014 @ 8:20 pm
Had the pleasure of catching him live at sams burger joint in San Antonio, if you’ve never seen him live you’re missing out.
July 3, 2014 @ 7:33 pm
I think this stuff is great – I never got much into anything before Losin’ Lately Gambler, and this album makes me want to go digging into that older stuff. Even the songs I knew that never really stuck with me – like “Hair in my eyes like a highland steer” are fantastic here. Like Trigger said, something about this recording really highlights the songwriting. Love it.
July 4, 2014 @ 12:47 pm
I guess I’m an unabashed Corb Lund mega nerd. Looking forward to watching the DVD and giving the CD a spin.
July 7, 2014 @ 8:36 am
I was shocked to see that my local paper actually reviewed this and made it the focus of their weekly podcast. I wasn’t going to buy it, but they played snippets of the re-recordings and it sounds really different.