~ By Terri Mason
His is a multi-storied lineage that is told and retold through his music every time he strolls on stage. His family tree includes rodeo record setters and rodeo royalty and a breed of people that defied the odds and headed across the desert to the Promised Land.
“Unique” is a pale word to describe this cowboy, whose campfire stew of musical influences and genres could only be summed up by coining a new subcategory: Agricultural-Tragic. This is Corb Lund.
“Yeah, Agricultural Tragic is also the title of the record [released the end of June],” said Corb. “I never have quite fit in any of the music genres. We’re not pure western, we’re not really a radio country band, we’re not really outlaw country, but there’s a lot of western stuff on it. So I told people that I had to invent my own sub- genre that I call Agricultural-Tragic,” he said.
“It also reflects, as probably most of your readers that know me know, I read a lot about Western life in this part of the world and in my family background. It’s important to me. The bulk of my writing has that thread running through it.”
In normal times, touring is purposely done in the comfort of the van. “That’s one of the things I’m most proud of over the last five or six years is the growth of our audience in western U.S. It’s been a long time coming, but they’re finally really starting to get it, and they’re rabid about it,” he says. “It’s pretty cool.”
While he is focused on the western U.S. for upcoming tours, Corb has toured internationally a number of times and has encountered a few surprises.
“D’you know Colter Wall? He’s this Canadian prairie kid from Saskatchewan. He’s doing a great job. He’s like, 24 — and he’s huge in Europe. The first time I actually met him was in Amsterdam and he was playing all these old cowboy songs that we all know, and he’s playing them to these hipster kids. He had them eating out of his hand. It’s like, how did this happen?” he laughs.
Like everyone else in the entire world, Corb and his band, the Hurtin’ Albertans, had their lives severely disrupted in early spring. They were on tour and playing dates in Colorado when Canada put out the call to go home. Here’s where he’s been ever since, at his place in Lethbridge, on the family ranch near Cardston and regularly visiting (and social-distancing) with his mom, Patty, on the home place near Taber.
Like everyone else listening to a new album, there’s always that one song that captures your heart, and on Agricultural Tragic, for me, that song is “Never Not Had Horses.” It was written about his mom, Patty, who for all time will be in the Calgary Stampede record books as their first barrel racing champion in 1959 — and then again in 1960.
“I’ve written lots about dad,” he says. “He pops into my songs a lot and so do my grandpas, and I’d been wondering, what about Mom? It happened that the last of her horses were too old to make the winter, and she needed to put them down. She was reflecting that ever since she’d been born in Cardston, she’d never not had horses, so her phrase became the song,” he explained.
With the new album and a string of enthusiastic venues, Corb and the band had months and months of touring lined up, and then all hell broke loose.
“Yeah, things went sideways. Our last show was in Greeley just outside of Denver, and then we had to just get in the van, drive home and cancel everything,” he said. “I make records, but the main part of my job consists of getting large groups of people together in a small space to get sweaty and listen to music, so it’s going to be a while before that comes back.”
Out of this pandemic has come the incredible reinvention, repackaging and sheer creativity folks are using to keep in touch with clients, friends and fans.
“A lot of us musicians have been working pretty hard at being connected by doing live internet performances. I’ve also been doing fun little prep tips and videos where I tell people about books I’ve been reading — that kind of thing,” he offered.
“I’ve also been writing quite a bit,” he continues. “It’s funny because usually I have to kind of fight for writing time but here it is on a silver platter. I’m making the most of it and writing a bunch of music.”
Even now, it’s all about finding that balance between career and home.
“I tour so much that I get behind on my life stuff,” he says. “With all the rodeos and festivals cancelling I’m going to be home for the summer, which is really unusual. Aside from the career part of it, I’m actually enjoying it. This is the longest turn of time I’ve had at home uninterrupted for quite a while.”
But with 10 studio albums chock-full of cowboys, horses, cattle and stuck trucks, plus a family ranch, there will be an agricultural reality check somewhere.
“Yeah, I’ve still got seven miles of fence to check,” he laughs. “My long-term to-do list is shrinking, but I still have to get out there and check that fence.”