Wednesday, January 27, 2016

CD Odyssey Disc 824: Corb Lund

When I’m going to a concert where an artist is featuring a new album I like to just soak in the new album as much as possible in advance, so this next record has had a lot of repeat listening over the past 48 hours.

At the end of the album review you can read about the concert as well – bonus coverage!

Disc 824 is….Things That Can’t Be Undone
Artist: Corb Lund

Year of Release: 2015

What’s up with the Cover? There is a trend in album covers to make them look like old sixties album covers. This album is part of that trend, with the simple shot of Corb with his guitar and the songs all listed on the front cover. Here Corb looks like he’s hanging out in his hotel room working on some songs. I sure hope it’s a hotel room, because I think he is successful enough to afford nicer curtains.

How I Came To Know It: I love Corb Lund, so this was just me buying his latest record when it came out.

How It Stacks Up:  I have eight Corb Lund albums. Of the eight I can only place it fifth best, but it is still really good. I just like all of Corb Lund’s stuff.

Ratings: 3 stars but almost 4

Corb Lund is one of those artists that got better later in his career. “Things That Can’t Be Undone” holds up the high standards of his string of strong records stretching back over the last ten years. It’s been a pretty good run.

The record is solidly country and western, but it has folk, roots, and rock elements as well. Lund got his start in an alternative rock band (“The Smalls”) and that edge has survived over his long country career. As with Steve Earle, all these other influences make his music more interesting than it might otherwise be.

That said don’t expect Corb to wow you with jazz-like progressions and confusing time signatures. This is mostly three-four and four-four time with some very basic melodies. You could even argue all Corb Lund songs sound the same at some level. To which I would say you’re right: they all sound good!

The opening track is a western song called “Weight of the Gun” about murder and the regret that follows it. I’m not sure there is a better western singer than Lund right now, with most country artists abandoning such traditional fare for songs with wider appeal. Corb continues to carry the western torch, and “Weight of the Gun” is a worthy entry in his cannon (in this case, a hand cannon). The song also features a thick country riff that is so sweet and timeless you could imagine Johnny Cash wrote it in the sixties.

At other times, “Things That Can’t Be Undone” had me thinking of Steve Earle. Like Earle, Lund artfully takes a singular experience and translates it into something universal. On “Sadr City” he tells the story of one soldier coming home from Iraq, determined he’ll never go back. The song is aided by the fine steel guitar work of Grant Siemens.

S Lazy H” tells the story of one man’s struggle to keep his family’s ranch alive, only to be betrayed by his own sister seeking a quick dollar from the sale of the property. Thanks to sharp and specific lyrics, and a great vocal delivery from Lund both this song and “Sadr City” viscerally put you in the shoes of these warriors of the working day as they swim against currents not of their own making.

Corb is also very good at making fun of himself, as he does on “Washed-Up Rock Star Factory Blues” about a singer who has a string of bad records and has to go back to his old labour job. Lots of fun lines in this one, but my favourites are:

“When I picked up the pen with the purchase order slips
The boss said ‘watch him boys, he’s gonna write a hit.
‘You’re an artist man, and there ain’t no boudt adout it
So when you paint the back fence be kinda sensitive about it.”

This is perfect all the way down to the goofy way the boss mixes up his letters in an attempt to be clever. And maybe dare the new employee to correct his language as well.

The record has some of the best production and arrangements I’ve heard on a Corb Lund album. His early records suffer on that front a little bit, and he’s come a long way in terms of using these dark arts to make every song sound that much more interesting and unique.

“Things That Can’t Be Done” is a strong record from someone who has settled nicely into a comfortable pocket of modern country music, but still has his own voice and a clear sense of history of the musical tradition he is a part of.

Best tracks:  Weight of the Gun, Sadr City, Washed-Up Rock Star Factory Blues, S Lazy H, Goodbye Colorado

THE CONCERT – January 26, 2016 at the McPherson Theatre, Victoria

This was one of those shows that could have easily been wrecked because of some bad luck with who we ended up seated near, but where the artist’s performance was so good it pulled me through.

First though, allow me to give some love to the McPherson theatre. I’m not usually a fan of the McPherson. I find it a bit stuffy, it gets very warm and the sound can be muted. However, I go where the music is.

This time, the McPherson gets a tip of the cowboy hat. The sound was a lot better than usual. In fact it was pretty great. It was amped up just the right amount so you could hear the performers loud and clear without anything bouncing off the walls. I think it helped that Sheila and I were in the fourth row from the stage as well, and I’m resolved to sit up close again.

The opening act was Daniel Romano. I’d never of heard of Romano if it hadn’t been for a coworker who was a big fan, but as it was I was primed (and a little excited) to see him perform. Romano was an understated fellow. He just came out with his two compatriots and the three of them sat down on stools and played.
Romano’s songs are beautifully written and thoroughly depressing, but in a good way. He started out sounding (and looking) a bit too much like Bob Dylan in his vocal style, but as his short set proceeded he found his own voice; kind of a mix of Dylan and Gram Parsons, with some early Leonard Cohen thrown in for good measure. I liked it, and I liked his backup singer, Kay Berkel, as well. In addition to being drop-dead gorgeous and a recording artist in her own right, Kay was once a pentathlete, which makes for an interesting resume. You can reach Kay here. Kay, you can reach me here!

Ahem…anyway, in due course Corb Lund would take the stage. Unfortunately while we waited for him to set up a group of annoying yahoos also showed up who had decided to skip the opening act. “Drunken louts” doesn’t really do them justice, but let’s use the expression as a starting point. Throughout the show they yelled at the wrong times, sang off key or vigorously kicked the chairs in front of them.

Fortunately Corb Lund was good enough that I was (mostly) able to ignore them.
Corb started out with a short “western” set full of gunfighting songs “Weight of the Gun,” “Drink It Like You Mean It” and “Priceless Antique Pistol Shoots Startled Owner”. He sang all these songs with a bandana disguising his face, which was a bit affected, but he made it work.

The band was excellent, particularly the lead guitar player, who was equally brilliant on the slide steel guitar and the electric and added depth and texture to every track.

Corb’s song list hit all the crowd favourites, including “Bible on the Dash,” “Hurtin’ Albertan” and “I Wanna Be in the Cavalry” (although sadly we only got the ‘upbeat’ version of the latter song, and I really wanted to hear the more sombre “bummer’ version).

Corb did about half of his new album, most of which I liked although I wished he’d played “Sadr City.” I think someone requested it from the floor but he went with the friendlier but schlocky “Cows Around” instead. Generally the tone was upbeat and fun and Lund avoided a lot of his more politically charged songs.

It was a well-constructed set, with up-tempo songs front and centre, and a few tear-jerkers thrown in at just the right time. These songs were some of my favourites, including “One Left In the Chamber,” “Alberta Says Hello” and “S Lazy H.”

In terms of selecting songs, Lund heavily favoured his previous album, 2012’s “Cabin Fever.” I counted 8 of 12 total songs off this record being played. In terms of earlier records, he pulled only two or three off each. In terms of old tracks, I would’ve liked to hear more off of “Horse Soldier, Horse Soldier” but generally I was happy.

And now a second shout-out to the McPherson, this time for their staff, who did their level best to calm down the idiots in the audience near us. Half an hour in they’d settled down into the occasional yelp; usually singing some lyric of a song a half-beat too late when they suddenly realized they knew it. Thankfully they hardly knew any of his songs, so this happened only rarely.

The main set ended with the traditional “Rye Whiskey/Time To Switch to Whiskey” which was great, although I think as an audience we let Corb down a bit on the sing-a-long.

For the encore, Corb did a wardrobe change and came out looking like a bespectacled reincarnation of Hank Williams Sr. It really worked for him, although he’s one of those big handsome dudes who make anything look good.
After the show, Corb Lund graciously took photos with fans and signed merchandise, a great tradition I’ve notice country artists embrace way more than rock artists on average. I was going to stay and get a photo with him, but we settled for this side shot of him working.
Turns out it was a mistake, since a lot of the late hangers-on ended up being able to spend some time with him backstage. D’oh! Ah, well. I still had fun, and I’d definitely see him again.

No comments: