by Meredith Ochs, REVIEW NPR Music
The prelude to Canadian singer-songwriter Corb Lund‘s new album sounds like a classic country music song. Lund built a cabin in rural Alberta with his longtime girlfriend and favorite uncle, but after the cabin was completed, his girlfriend left and his uncle died. Snowed in for weeks at a time, Lund emerged with Cabin Fever, the title of his new album.
For city dwellers who dream of moving to the country, buying some cattle and becoming gentleman farmers one day, Lund offers a cautionary tale in “Cows Around”: it’s more bitter than sweet, with a touch of western swing — western Canada, that is.
As a fourth-generation rancher, Lund knows better than to romanticize life on a farm. He’s not especially inclined to write about anything romantic without a dose of darkness, which might explain his lengthy tenure in a metal band before embarking on a solo career. But as a songwriter, Lund finds glory in tough work, spotting characters most people would overlook, and celebrating them with colorful sketches like “Dig Gravedigger Dig.”
Lund’s ironic humor and keen sense of the multilayered strata of American pop culture is similar to Hayes Carll, the wry Texas singer-songwriter who trades verses with Lund on this song. The two friends have traveled a lot of miles together to perform. It’s easy to imagine either of them as the touring musician in the song, who swipes a motel room Bible to bring his band good mojo on their road trip. In his defense, those books do say “Please Take One,” don’t they?
Guns and graves, bovines and bikers, whiskey and women — even with all the references Lund crams into his new record, it rarely feels gratuitous, and that’s impressive. It’s because he’s experienced much of what he sings about. Rural living isn’t easy, as he shows, and that’s why it makes for such great songs.