By B. Simm
CALGARY — Corb Lund is known to throw his audience a few surprises, a curve ball once in a while. The first track, “The Weight of the Gun”, from his new album, Things That Can’t Be Undone, rolls off the assembly line smooth and elegant like a slinky piece of mid-60s Motown R ‘n’ B. The diversion from the honky-tonk, train track shuffle doesn’t stop there either. While he hasn’t traded in his boots and jeans for a shark skin suit, Lund’s country swing has a notable pop groove and fleetness that’s reminiscent of records from Los Angeles made in the ‘60s by Lee Hazlewood and the seductive precision of the Wrecking Crew, L.A.’s premier session players from that era.
“We were actually listening to Lee Hazelwood when we cut some of it,” remarks Lund, acknowledging that his new album is a departure from what his fans might expect. It was recorded in Nashville with producer David Cobb, who’s well-respected as a connoisseur of sound drawing from the warmth and rawness of Stax/Volt, the fresh exploits pioneered by the Beatles, Dylan and the Stones, along with the outlaw spirit of Waylon Jennings — an archival melting pot that pours straight into Things That Can’t Be Undone. “This is the first time a lot of Americans will hear us,” says Lund, “but I’m curious how it sounds to someone who knows our older material.”
What’s largely apparent on this record is an open looseness, a buoyancy that the songs easily slip into. They’re easy and free-flowing with hooks that lock in and, as always, lyrics that command your attention.
“David, the producer, asked us to come in unrehearsed,” says Lund. “He likes the band to be fresh, no preconceptions. He sat in the same room that we cut the record in. It was done live, most of the vocals are live, a lot of mic bleed… real organic and old school.
“This is our eighth record now. When I was younger I was a control freak and wanted to do stuff in a particular way. But I’m kind of bored with my own shit, except for my songs, and realized there are people that I could benefit from to open up my horizons. When it came to this record I was wide open and let the band and producer do pretty much whatever they want, and that’s what happened.”
One track that ventures out is “Sadr City,” a psychedelic-tinged journey into the mind of an American soldier who wrestles with the burden and aftermath of Iraq. Psychedelic is a loose reference, however. Lund feels that the main riff reminds him of something off of The Cult’s Love album, adding that “the record label guy said it sounded like Echo and The Bunnymen.”
But the distinction that cuts through even more is the soldier’s story. Lund plunges into the fear, fatigue and frustration of a vet’s first-person account of doing battle over and over that then accumulates into a defiant chorus:
Never let them send me back to Sadr City
Never let them send me back
Some shit went down, down in Sadr City
Some shit went down in Iraq
I ain’t going back
“When I did my Horse Soldier record (2007), a lot of military guys started coming to my shows. A couple of guys from the States I ended up talking to had been through this battle (in Sadr City) that I turned into a song. I think that being shipped out to Afghanistan or Iraq tour after tour is pretty common. They were sending them on a number of unprecedented tours, more than they signed up for. Telling them they got to go back over and over, and just burn them out.”
If there’s a central theme to Things That Can’t Be Undone, it’s the loss in songs like “Sadr City” and those which Lund has encountered personally with relationships slipping away, losing the family ranch and the death of close family members. The emotional potency could easily shift into a moody piece of mind, Lund however steers clear of falling into the abyss of pain, pity and melodrama with a prevailing strong will and friendly jab in the ribs every once in a while.
“Washed-Up Rock Star Factory Blues” pits Lund against a gruff boss-man who taunts the star on the slide as the hits run dry and now has to resort to filling out purchase orders and sweeping floors as his new career. From verse to verse, the boss-man takes a number of scathing shots at his prized employee… “You’re an artist, man! There ain’t no ‘bout a doubt it. So when you paint the back fence, be kind of sensitive about it.” Then in a sudden turn, Lund wakes up in a sweat finding himself on the tour bus and glad all over he’s still kicking it on the road and not bound by the factory blues.
As a storyteller, a literary artist, Lund’s craftsmanship is refreshing in that he sometimes pulls funny, often wry, punch lines or there’s a pleasant, unexpected twist to the plot, while the stories themselves are always clear and lucid as they are convincing. Even though country music is full of humour and heartache, far too often the tales that unfold are contrived, dull and even dumb. Whereas pop music tends to be littered with half-baked nursery rhymes that make little to no sense or masquerade with some cryptic, vague wordplay that leaves you frustrated and hanging.
“I think that’s usually a cop out,” says Lund, agitated by the same notion. “Not always. Some people write word paintings, poetry. And that’s okay. But it pisses me off when there’s a song that’s hinting at an idea and you think there’s something behind it, but there’s really not. It’s just thrown together.”
Lund refers to Vancouver’s Geoff Berner and a fun ditty of his called “I Kind Of Hate Songs With Ambiguous Lyrics” which Lund summarizes as: “All this stuff is going on in the world, and all you can say is ‘bleep, bleep, bleep.’ I kind of agree with that. There’s just a lot of lazy lyric writing out there. But I put a lot time into it.”
Things That Can’t Be Undone is available now. Corb Lund plays two shows at the Commodore Ballroom (Vancouver) Jan. 29 & 30, the Jack Singer Concert Hall (Calgary) Feb. 5, the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium (Edmonton) Feb. 6, O’Brians Event Centre (Saskatoon) Feb. 8, and the Burton Cummings Theatre (Winnipeg) Feb. 10.AB, Alberta, Arts Commons, BC, British Columbia, Burton Cummings Theatre, Commodore Ballroom, Corb Lund, Jack Singer Concert Hall, Manitoba, MB, Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium, O'Brian's Event Centre