Monday, March 12, 2018

CD Odyssey Disc 1115: Corb Lund

It’s my second album in a row released in 2012. What does it mean? Nothing at all but the brain sure loves recognizing patterns, doesn’t it?

Disc 1115 is… Cabin Fever
Artist: Corb Lund

Year of Release: 2012

What’s up with the Cover? A mountain man takes a walk in the snow. I hope he’s just going for a morning pee, because that thin shirt doesn’t look warm enough for a full day outside in the snow.

How I Came To Know It: I was already a fan of Corb Lund when this album came out, so it was just me having faith it would be good.

How It Stacks Up:  I have 8 Corb Lund albums. Of those 8, “Cabin Fever” ranks second best. Sometimes I think it could be #1, but I’m leaving space to be impressed.

Ratings: 4 stars

When I last saw Corb Lund live I was surprised at how much of the setlist was from “Cabin Fever”. However listening the album made that make a lot of sense.

For a guy with roots as a bass player in a grunge band it is impressive how truly country and western Corb Lund sounds. He’s got that Alberta twang (like the Southern U.S. but a bit more round and flat at the edges) and he is a natural storyteller.

“Cabin Fever” sees him embracing traditional western roots, with songs that amble along and melodies that mosey up and down the scales and lend themselves to singing along when you’re out riding the trail. Or so I imagine – it has been so long since I rode a horse down a trail (and I’ve done it so infrequently) I’m not sure I could even remember how.

With that in mind, it is fitting that the album begins with “Gettin’ Down on the Mountain” a song warning city folks like me that if modern society should collapse you better have skills other than music review writing. Corb notes huntin’, shootin’, and growing vegetables as three key ones. The song has a swagger that implies the narrator has low regard for those who can’t start a fire in a light wind.

There is a rock groove to “Gettin’ Down on the Mountain” and Lund once again crosses blues elements into his country style throughout the record. “Dig Gravedigger Dig” has a rock-breakin’ gritty swing that would be at home as a prison work song, and “Gothest Girl I Can” is a rockabilly celebration of girls who are:

“Thrift store vampire chic
It’s night every day of the week
Stop, stare, dead flowers in her hair
She’s the Gothest girl I can.”

Having always had a soft spot for pale skin and black bangs this song appealed to me, and its playful energy makes it all the more fun.

Lund has even more fun in a duet with Hayes Carll called “Bible on the Dash”. This song is so close to commercial Nashville country catchy I wanted to dislike it, but damn it, it was just too clever to reject. Even without the words, the electric guitar riffs that Grant Siemens loads it up with makes it fun even if Carll and Lund just sat there hummin’.

While I mostly liked the kitsch and fun on the record, Lund lost me with “Cows Around” a song about how much fun it is to…have cows around. It is just too hokey and frankly, I just don’t love having cows around. This is one of those songs that when Lund plays in concert (and he always does) I find myself looking at my watch while the rest of the crowd is smiling, clapping and singing along.

When Lund switches over to western themes, he makes you revel in the tale even though after multiple listens you already know how each one ends. The best on this album is “Pour ‘Em Kinda Strong” a song about a gunman on the run dipping temporarily into a bar. Lund tells the story in the words of the gunman speaking to the barkeep, and does a masterful job of catching a nuanced character in the lyrics and delivery. The gunman is polite but insistent, with a menace underneath and a willingness to do violence.

The record shows a lot of range, and Lund is at his best when he gets mournful and introspective. “September” is a song about someone begging their lover to stay a little longer. The song features a romantic mid-tempo guitar strum, some sweet steel guitar work, and mournful high singing where Lund shows surprising range.

Lund is a master of cadence and rhyme, using them to deliver punch lines at the end of every stanza.  On “One Left in the Chamber” he tells the story of a man on the brink:

“There the one I left unfinished, there’s the one I can’t explain
There’s the one in Colorado, the one I wished I had again
There’s the one I broke too easy, there’s the one I couldn’t break
There’s the one I too much of, there’s all the shit I couldn’t take
There’s the one I shoulda walked away from and come right home to you
And the one left in the chamber oughta do.”

Lund uses a series of alternating concepts to underscore that sometimes life just pushes when it needs to pull, and zigs when you need it to zag. Then after he lulls you into a gentle sway of regret, he drops that short line at the end to underscore the finality of what’s about to happen. Good tragedy employs punch lines too – they just aren’t funny.

So often great artists have all their success early and then have a long trail of playing old favourites at shows for decades to come, mixed in with a couple of new ones to keep themselves interested. “Cabin Fever” proves that almost 15 years into Corb Lund’s career it isn’t too late to deliver a classic.

Best tracks: Gettin’ Down on the Mountain, Bible on the Dash, September, The Gothest Girl I Can, One Left in the Chamber, Pour ‘Em Kinda Strong

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