Taking time between cattle ranching and hanging out in the Canadian Rockies to write songs and perform them for folks when he can, over the last few years Alberta native Corb Lund has gone from the best kept secret of cowboy music to a living legend of it. His plainspoken yet cunning knack for poetry, combined with the real world perspective on the plights and joys of rural folks living under Western skies makes for some of the most compelling country and Western music you can find.
With his band The Hurtin’ Albertans, Corb Lund moves back towards his center with his new record Agricultural Tragic, after the slightly more Americana feel to his last record, 2015’s Things That Can’t Be Undone. Full of story songs and Western tales, all spun with wisdom and the keen observation of a natural poet, this record takes you to settings and landscapes far away from your humdrum existence, or speaks right to your core if the environs evoked in his songs are familiar to home.
From recalling having to talk down a former Army Ranger from killing a group of horse thieves while on an elk hunting trip with Turnpike Troubadours frontman Evan Felker, to trying to remember the protocols from getting away from a Grizzly bear, to attempting to envision life without any horses to tend to because that’s all you’ve ever known, these aren’t the hypotheticals of some goofy suburban kid in a Howdy Doody outfit in a club in East Nashville or Echo Park trying to play cowboy. The stories of Agricultural Tragic are from a guy that lived them during the day, and wrote about them at night.
They may tell you music is young person’s game, but as Corb Lund attests, when it comes to cowboy songs, the blues, or brewing whiskey, trust the seasoned veterans. This is what Corb sings about smartly in the half-time “Old Men,” marking one of the highlights of Agricultural Tragic along with his escapades with Evan Felker in “90 Seconds of Your Time.” Hobnobbing with all those great Oklahoma songwriters has made Corb Lund an honorary Red Dirt member for many years now, and this is the focus of the song “Oklahomans!”
Corb always stays well within the roots realm, but enjoys exploring its borders a bit like with the rockabilly notions of the song “Rat Patrol,” or stopping down in phrases for some outright spoken word poetry in “Tattoos Blues.” Lund even lumps in a duet with Jaida Dreyer, and really turns up the twang on “Dance With Your Spurs On.” It’s all facilitated by the Hurtin’ Albertans who can recreate anything, especially guitar player Grant Siemens who seems to have the perfect lick or tone for any moment.
Five years removed from a new Corb Lund record of original music, Agricultural Tragic will be welcomed warmly by hungry fans. Though the record does explore and reflect well upon the fleeting Western agrarian way of life, a couple of the tracks do feel a little hokey, like the “Grizzly Bear Blues” that may fit better on a kids record (which may not be a bad idea for Corb to cut). But there’s plenty of quality tracks like “Louis L’Amor” to bolster Corb’s repertoire for cowboy and Western songs for years to come.
Maybe not a high water mark as a Corb Lund record overall, but with plenty of highlights to take away and ample enjoyment rendered, Agricultural Tragic once again establishes that Corb Lund is the cowboy poet turned country artist for our generation, bridging the gap between the old greats like Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, and the up-and-comers like Colter Wall.
1 3/4 Guns Up (8/10)
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