Vintage Album Review – Corb Lund’s “Horse Soldier! Horse Soldier!”

photo: Trevor Smith

When crowing on about our favorite contemporary country music singers and songwriters, never enough noise is made about Corb Lund. Maybe it’s because he’s from up in Canada, and so he’s out of sight and out of mind for some. Maybe it’s because some consider the meat of his career to be more in the past than in the future, and to put it in horse terms, they’ve put him out to pasture. But few have amassed a song catalog as quality and compelling as his.

Take for example Corb’s 2007 concept record released 15 years ago today, Horse Soldier! Horse Soldier!. An outright treatise on the use of horses in warfare, it’s as studied and knowledgeable as it is entertaining, especially for a subject matter that could have come across as dry and dense. But that’s the skill of Corb Lund— taking subjects that may seem fey or mundane, and making you feel his passion for them.

Corb Lund has always been aided in his pursuit of country and Western music by authenticity. From Alberta ranching stock, when Corb Lund starts composing songs about horses, he does so from a place of knowledge, reverence, and authority. As the title implies, Horse Soldier! Horse Soldier! pays tribute to the mounted cavalrymen of history, from the Cossacks, to the belligerents of the American Civil War, to the Englishmen who routed Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo. It’s a tip of the hat to the last men that brought majesty to warfare before mechanization ran them off the battlefield.

The original Corb Lund songs “I Wanna Be in the Cavalry” and “Horse Soldier, Horse Soldier” are fit to include right beside the classic battle hymns of history. Whereas some songwriters suffice with two or three verses for a song, one of Corb’s virtues has always been stretching it to three or four when called for, while bringing more quality to the writing than less. The arc of this album’s concept is a classic one: The pride and gallantry soldiers feel as they march off to war, with thoughts of honor and heroism lifting their spirits, yet often only finding death and disease awaiting them on the battlefield.

Though not overtly anti-war, Horse Soldier! Horse Soldier! certainly resolves in that moral, ending in a rendition of “Taps.” Though written about soldiers of yore and released 15 years ago, the message of the album feels very relevant today as some continue to favor saber-rattling or outright war as opposed to leaving these things behind as relics of the past to be written about in song and story.

Though songs of horse soldiers bookend this concept album, some of the songs are more just about soldiers, or horses exclusively. “The Horse I Rode In On” and “Especially A Paint” are about horses and heartbreak. “Student Visas” is a song about military intrigue amid the Iran-Contra scandal of the 80s.

There are even a few songs that don’t fit the concept of the album at all. “Brother Brigham, Brother Young” is a historical commentary on Mormonism. “Hard On Equipment (Tool For The Job)” is just quintessential and hilarious Corb Lund songwriting at its finest, mixing character creation with vignettes from real life. Same goes for “Lament for Lester Cousins.”

These interludes help the concept of this album go down easier, so do the incredibly diverse soundscapes Corb Lund taps into. From music modes more native to the 1800’s and the Old World, to horn fanfare, to straightforward honky tonk songs, Corb Lund and the Hurtin’ Albertins find the right mood for each tune, and tell the story through the music too.

During a week when the United States honors its Veterans, and in a year when war has returned inexplicably to the European continent, revisiting Corb Lund’s Horse Soldier! Horse Soldier! seems pertinent as ever, and is just as enriching to listen to as it was 15 years ago. Just like our Veterans and the heroes of the past, the music of Corb Lund is not to be forgotten.

1 3/4 Guns Up (8.5/10)

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