Whether Corb Lund’s characters are burdened by the anguish of a past killing or merely fretting over a friend who is hard on his tools, their lament arrives fully formed from the songwriter’s mouth. We feel it and believe it, even if we don’t personally relate to it, just as we don’t have to be a struggling musician to grasp the darkly humorous irony of a washed-up rock star suddenly working as a factory grunt after spending his career “singing about sticking it to the man.”
The rocker’s grinning boss tells him: “Here’s your backstage pass to the warehouse boiler room / That’s what he said as he handed me my broom … You’re an artist, man, there ain’t no doubt about it / So when you paint the back fence, be kind of sensitive about it.”
Lund’s ability to bridge the gap between the man on stage and the man who built the stage, to ably speak to both urban music critics and rural car mechanics, is one of his greatest strengths as a songwriter, though his strengths are many. His songs are at once erudite and plainspoken. He’s like the smart, well-read guy at the party who doesn’t feel the need to tell you how many books he’s read. He’s just interesting and you like hearing his stories.
The Flathead Valley will get a glimpse of the Canadian crooner, whose music gets lumped into variations of alt-country-Americana-roots but defies tidy genre categorizations, on May 31 at the Remington in Whitefish as part of his “Western Destinations” tour, which will take him to more than 30 towns and cities across the American and Canadian West. Lund is backed by his longtime band The Hurtin’ Albertans.
Lund told the Beacon he’s spent a lot of time in Whitefish over the years, skiing and hanging out, including a fun New Year’s Eve, but this is his first show there.
“I’m excited,” he said. “That part of Montana feels a lot like home to me. I’m pretty partial to the Great Northern for beer and food.”
Lund grew up in a rodeo and ranching family in Southern Alberta near the Montana border. He writes primarily about the West, both in Canada and the United States, and the Treasure State often makes appearances in his lyrics. His songs cover a broad spectrum of Western life and motifs without being obvious or resorting to tired clichés. He might sing quite a bit about horses, but John Wayne isn’t riding them.
For instance, “Horse Soldier, Horse Soldier” is a whirlwind tour through the history of horseback warriors, from Mongols and Cossacks in Asia to Arabian horses on Middle Eastern battlefields during the 13th century Ayyubid dynasty; the American Civil War and Waterloo and the Afghan Northern Alliance fighting the Taliban; Englishmen, Russian tsars, Scandinavians and Custer’s Last Stand make appearances.
“I was with Custer and the 7th in ’76 or ’77 / Scalped at Little Big Horn by the Sioux / And the tears and devastation of a once proud warrior nation / This I know ‘cause I was riding with them too.”
And sometimes a horse song isn’t about horses or their riders at all, but rather their doctors, as in “Talkin’ Veterinarian Blues.” Lund’s father is veterinarian, and as with many of his songs, Lund’s powerful observation skills lead him to find humor in even the mundane routines of pet care. In one verse, a blind woman brings in her bird, which promptly dies overnight, and the vet’s diagnosis is that the only cure is “a trip to the pet store.”
“Well the mornin’ come, I didn’t wanna upset her / For her own good, didn’t see a need to tell her / ‘Not only you boys fixed his wing, but it appears as though you taught him to sing / You are good doctors! / He ain’t never sung before, and I’ve had him for years!’”
Lund’s most recent album, the 2016 “Things That Can’t Be Undone,” was produced by Dave Cobb, the biggest producer currently working in the broader alt-country landscape, producing recent albums for Chris Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson, Jamey Johnson, Shooter Jennings, Jason Isbell, John Prine and Brandi Carlile, among others.
Lund called Cobb a “master of warm 60s and 70s country sounds,” with a “spontaneous and organic” approach to producing that the singer appreciates.
“We did a lot of the song arrangements on the fly right in the studio the day we recorded them,” Lund said. “He’s got a great ear for sounds, which is really important.”
Lund’s tour kicked off in Miles City on May 17 and wraps up in Challis, Idaho on Aug. 10, making stops in a number of Western small towns as well as Portland, Seattle, Houston and other cities.
“When you come from generations of ranchers and rodeo people, you can’t help but be influenced by the West,” he said.
Lund is particularly drawn to Montana, where he has lived for periods and where he has ancestral connections dating back to his great-grandfather, who was a gambler in Butte in the late 1800s.
“I feel a lot of kinship with the place,” he said. “When I was a kid, it was always kind of magical to come down and go to Glacier or Whitefish or Kalispell or Great Falls. Montana is my favorite state, for sure. Feels like family.”