Corb Lund
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Corb Lund

Chris Morris

Losiní Lately Gambler marks the American debut of Corb Lund, Canadaís acclaimed, authentic alternative country star.

Produced by the noted Nashville drummer and vocalist Harry Stinson (of Marty Stuartís Fabulous Superlatives), Lundís first New West album is the Alberta-born singersongwriterís sixth. He has already impressed listeners and critics at home: Lund has been named Roots Artist of the Year by the Canadian Country Music Association for the last five years running and was again nominated this year. He collected the Roots and Traditional Album of the Year trophy for his album Hair in My Eyes Like a Highland Steer at the 2006 JUNO Awards (the Canadian Grammys), and took home a CCMA Album of the Year award for the set as well. His ambitious 2007 song cycle Horse Soldier, Horse Soldier! was nominated for the prestigious critical accolade, the Polaris Music Prize.

Lund came by all the praise naturally: Unlike many so-called "country artists" these days, he is no drugstore cowboy Ė heís the real McCoy. "My family is all ranchers and rodeo people," Lund says. "Theyíve been in Canada for about 100 years, and before that they were raising cattle in Utah and Nevada. Some of my relatives are still down there. I grew up rodeoing. I was a steer rider Ė thatís like the junior version of bull riding. I was on horseback pretty much as soon as I could walk."

Lundís interest in musical storytelling was bred by his boyhood love of Marty Robbins (whose classic 1959 LP Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs was a crucial discovery) and Johnny Horton (whose hits like "The Battle of New Orleans" and "North to Alaska" impressed the budding history buff). Lund acknowledges the impact of other performers Ė Kris Kristofferson (now a New West label mate), Rambliní Jack Elliott. But some even more important influences ran in the family.

"My grandpas used to sing all these old Western cowboy ballads," Lund says. "Those songs come from before recorded music -- theyíre traditional numbers that the cowboys always sing in camp, or just for fun, to entertain themselves. My grandpas knew all those songs. The first song I ever knew was called ĎThe Strawberry Roan,í a cowboy song thatís at least 150 years old."

Country and Western music has always run in Lundís blood, but before he began performing it full-time, he was swept away by indie rock. From 1989 to 2001, he worked with the aggressive Edmonton band the Smalls.

"They call it punk rock Ė they say that because it was an indie kind of project Ė but it was more like a modern kind of Black Sabbath thing," Lund says. "It was a very do-it-yourself, independent-scene kind of thing. So it was kind of punky. We did four records. It was good Ė we sold about 40,000 records. I think if the band had been from Chicago or New York or Los Angeles, we might have been able to take it further, but it was a niche music, and we took it about as far as we could take it in Western Canada." He continues, "About 1993 or í94, I started playing country gigs. Thatís the stuff I grew up with. I never really stopped playing it and liking it. There was quite a long period where I was doing both. From a writing standpoint, itís not as different as you might think. I would compare it to sketching in pencil versus doing oil paintings." Lundís latest series of oils, Losiní Lately Gambler, features a gallery of subjects drawn from real life.

He says, "A lot of my ancestors pop into the songs. Iíve got quite a cast of characters to draw from. I feel a real kinship with the old West. A lot of my ancestors were ranchers, but one of my great-grandpas was a road gambler in Montana in the 1880s. Iíve got some miners in there. My grandpas in particular were full of lore Ė they had lots of stories."

Lundís great-grandfather may be the model for the hard-luck gambler of the new albumís "A Game in Town Like This." His own rodeo experience animates "Steer Riderís Blues." And Lundís father, a veterinarian, likely served as the inspiration of "Horse Doctor, Come Quick" and "Talkiní Veterinarian Blues." Some characters, like the deadly female gunslinger of "Devilís Best Dress," hail from Western folklore, while others Ė the busted-out rancher of "Long Gone to Saskatchewan," the farmer displaced by oil drillers in "This is My Prairie" Ė spin stories torn from Canadaís daily papers. These vivid depictions of the Canadian West are never less than universal. Lund notes, "My gut feeling at the beginning, which I think has been borne out, is if you write about what is familiar to you and do a good job of it, the specifics fade away and the universality of the message comes through. When I was younger, listening to Springsteen singing about the slums of New Jersey, that was alien to me, but I got it, because the music is so good. Thatís what I aspire to Ė to paint a picture thatís intriguing." Like Lundís last four albums, Losiní Lately Gambler was produced by Harry Stinson, the Nashville-based drummer and vocalist noted for his work in Marty Stuartís virtuoso unit the Fabulous Superlatives. Lund is backed on the collection by his longtime band the Hurtiní Albertans Ė bassist Kurt Ciesla, drummer Brady Valgardson, and guitarist-banjoist Grant Siemens.

Lund and his group, who will support Losiní Lately Gambler with extensive touring, have already made their mark as a top concert act. The Hurtiní Albertans routinely sell out arenas at home, and theyíve enlisted a legion of fans in the U.S. from Montana to Texas with appearances with alt-country stars like Robert Earl Keen and Hayes Carll.

Their audiences are not restricted to country enthusiasts, however: Lund has appeared on eclectic bills at high-profile events like Englandís Glastonbury Festival (alongside the Who and the Alarm), Canadaís Virgin Festival (with Stone Temple Pilots), and Australiaís Byron Bay Blues Festival (Buddy Guy and David Gray also appeared on the bill). He appeared at New Westís 2009 showcase at Austinís South By Southwest Music Festival.

"We play folk fests and rock fests and country fests." Lund says. "I write my own stuff, and a lot of the regular country guys donít. I think thereís a kind of quirkiness to the writing that opens it up a little bit to people who might not normally pick up on country & Western stuff. Iím in a unique situation: I grew up country, and I spent 10 years in a rock band, in a situation where you were encouraged to be unique and strive for new sounds. I bring that kind of thing back to my country writing. Thereís enough of an irreverence to it where it steps outside the boundaries of whatís traditionally expected."