Been a big Corb Lund fan for years now. First time I ever heard him is one of things burned into my brain. Back in summer 2006 I was playing in a punk rock band, travelling up north to Edmonton to play a show—must’ve been July. An older brother decided to come and sell t-shirts for us that day. He jumps in the van and says that he’s playing the music on the trip—no exceptions. All right Cody, what’ve you got? The only two bands that matter he says: Nickelback and the Hurtin’ Albertans.
We kind of laughed and thought nothing of it—at least we’d make enough money to fill up the tank to make it back to Calgary with him behind the merch booth. Fifty clicks out of town, the dip bottle’s been passed around a couple times, it’s hotter than hell inside the van and we’re all sick of “look at this photograph”—but again grateful that someone else could make the trip. Anyways, we aren’t even talking and I’m looking out the window at the swiftly passing prairie and the opening chords to Corb’s “Little Foothills Heaven” ring through and I’ve never been the same. For the first time in years I heard some country music that was fresh and real and cool. And probably, most importantly looking back, it was thoughtfully about the landscape and culture that I’d taken for granted growing up.
If memory serves, we also listened to “Hurtin’ Albertan,” “Roughest Neck Around” and “The Truck Got Stuck” on that trip—this was back in the era of the “burnt” CD. Great soundtrack to an interesting trip: Stopped at a Motel 6 in Red Deer to take some promo shots next to an inflatable cowboy; played the show; had the show shut down by the cops; got assaulted by some locals on Whyte Ave as we loaded our van to leave; had to steal back our merch money; had some engine failures; had to fill up without turning off the ignition; all while chased by a prairie thunderstorm that came barrelin’ down on our way south to Calgary. The next morning, pearl snap shirt still wet from the rain, I went straight to the local record store on 17th Ave and bought 2005’s Hair in My Eyes Like a Highland Steer as it opened. Wore out that CD that summer in my shitty Ford Focus.
Hard to believe it’s been 14 years since then. In that time, I’ve lived in a few different countries, but Corb has been a constant connection to home ever since. Each record kind of marks a specific time in my life, and equally what had been going on Alberta—kept me close by in a way. I hope one day people will look back at Corb’s output and trace the ups and downs of the province. We’ve gone from “too much oil money, and not enough booze” back in 2005, through selling off ranches on “S Lazy H” in 2015, and to today’s Agricultural Tragic.
As is typical, this is an upbeat record from Corb Lund, which benefits from Corb taking the production reins and letting his band do their thing. After all these years, they’ve got a vibe that’s all their own. No other country band sounds like the Hurtin’ Albertans—a sort of Buck Owens and the Buckeroo’s type of unspoken understanding of each other. For me, the strongest section on Agricultural Tragic is “Oklahomans!” and “Grizzly Bear Blues,” where guitarist Grant Siemens lays the hammer down a few times on the baritone guitar. Incidentally, “Grizzly Bear Blues” is about this uniquely Albertan thing where everyone has a story about a bear and/or how to deal with one. And then of course there’s “Rat Patrol” about the stranger Albertan thing where at every chance they get, folks’ll boast about our rat free province and the government force that keeps it that way—something I never thought much of really until I moved to New York City.
“Never Not Had Horses” is a sweet Ian Tyson-esque ode to Corb’s mom, who, for the first time in her life, no longer has any horses to call her own: “Whats an old cowgirl meant to do?” It’s an interesting metaphor for the province too, in light of plummeting oil prices and major economic change—what’s the West meant to do?
These themes are noticeably absent from Agricultural Tragic. Corb normally has roughnecks growlin’ in the mud, or oil refiners suturing the skyline. Here though, Corb’s touring the panhandle on “Oklahomans!” and hunting in Idaho on “90 Seconds of Your Time”. Having been written and recorded prior to the pandemic and lockdown, Agricultural Tragic doesn’t speak to our current tragedy. Instead, it comes from that more upbeat time, before the oil patch laid everyone off, the virus came and borders closed. Thankfully though, the record’s mood offers a welcome respite from our troubling times—a reminder that there are good times around the corner, and greater horizons to explore. In doing so, Agricultural Tragic will stand out as one of Corb’s strongest releases.
As great as Agricultural Tragic is I look forward to the next one too. No one speaks about, or sounds like, the contemporary West the way Corb does. I can’t wait to hear how Corb’s illustrates the next chapter. But in the meantime, I’ll be spinning Agricultural Tragic whenever I can, and hopefully on the road sometime soon; looking forward to the day that borders open, and Agricultural Tragic can be enjoyed alongside family and friends back home.