Corb Lund Bronco Buster

Review by Bill Monahan of concert at Meaford Hall, Sept. 20th

Corb Lund’s concert at Meaford Hall last night began with an atmospheric understatement, low bowing on the upright bass with some slight guitar touches and swooshing ambience from the cymbals of the drum kit.  Corb appeared looking like someone out of a Clint Eastwood movie with a big black coat and a big black hat that obscured his face and his first few songs were relatively quiet and gentle.  When he finally sang a more upbeat number and received a rousing response he was surprised. He explained that he had expected a sedate reception from a concert hall audience but his road manager had told him to expect a more rowdy crowd.

The road manager must have noticed the noise from the audience that was percolating throughout the break between the set from opener Tim Moxam and Corb’s set.  There were random shouts and hoots for no apparent reason.  Soon enough, though, the reason became more apparent and Corb noticed it too.  As he took a swig from the beer bottle on his mic stand he said, “I’ve got to catch up to you,” and asked if it was all of us or just the guys “over there” pointing to an area of the audience that he couldn’t see past the stage lights but could hear well enough.  There was a row with eight guys side by side holding cups of beer in each hand.  They had their own style of beer drinking which consisted of taking a gulp and exhaling a loud howl, unrelated to anything around them.  They kept that up throughout the concert.

Corb Lund inspires a welcome silence from a rowdy crowd

Corb Lund inspires a welcome silence from a rowdy crowd

It’s a shame that those guys and a few others in the audience found themselves more interesting than the performer they’d paid to see.  For sure, the music of Corb Lund is feel-good music that gets you stomping your feet, but he is much more than that and he deserved to be properly listened to.

Corb Lund brings something unique to contemporary country music.  His songs are so accessible that if you listen to one of them twice, you can sing along.  They have the sound of the old time country classics but they are not derivative.  Despite a good dose of irony in his lyrics, he is not offering a parody of another era.  He is paying due respect to a musical style that was, above all, about sincerity, something that is not always evident in the shiny product that passes for country music these days.  Occasionally his inspirations shone through as if through a worn spot in his cowboy costume, when Stompin’ Tom, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard suddenly emerged in the middle of one of his original songs.  But he was going a step better than those models, singing songs that mix equal parts wit and wordplay to tell real stories about real cowboys in our own west, singing about Alberta as it is today and the Alberta that’s slipping away.  His style, at once familiar and evocative, ranges through cowboy ballads, western swing, honky tonk and rockabilly, as authentic as anything you are likely to hear these days.

There were quite a few references to bronco busting in his songs and at one point, finally, he proved he knew how to do that.  His band, The Hurtin’ Albertans left him alone on the stage and he quietly strummed as he sang a tribute to the cattle ranch lifestyle that is slipping away into the hands of the banks in the elegiac “S Lazy H”.  As he sang this sad tale of the loss of a family ranch the beer-swilling broncos finally let up on their neighing and whinnying and let the rest of us enjoy in superb silence the artist that we had come to hear.  It was only for a few moments, though, and Corb returned to levity immediately afterward with the clever and ironic ditty, “I Wonder What Are All The Ugly People Doing Tonight?”

Corb Lund made it clear that he is proud to be from Alberta and he urged any of us who haven’t been there to go and see it for ourselves.  He made a pretty good case for it.  And it made me think about how lucky we are in this country to have regions that have an aura of romance and history about them, and ambassadors to sing their praises.  It also reminded me that later this week we will be treated to a similar regional troubadour when Joel Plaskett arrives to sing the praises of Nova Scotia.  Let’s hope the wild horses don’t show up.

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