'Agricultural Tragic' Review: Corb Lund presents a groovy, melodic slice of life from his Canadian ranch days
According to Lund, this new album is 'hat it feels like to have six generations of cowboy heritage thrown into the crazy 21st Century urban setting. But I approach it with abandon and irreverence'
The western frontier set the stage for many of America’s great legends. Fierce battles were fought by early settlers, as thousands of families migrated en masse, traversing the harsh terrain in search of more forgiving lands. Even today, we are captivated by the tales and legends of the men and women that once roamed these wild and daunting lands. While that same frontier might today be tamed by technology, the life of a cowboy is a choice that many of the intrepid still make today.
For the musician Corb Lund, who hails from a family of multi-generational ranchers (they ventured across Utah, Nevada, and finally settled in the Canadian Rockies), that life is a part of him and by extension, his music. With his 10th studio album, ‘Agricultural Tragic,’ which releases on June 26, Lund brings us more tales from the frontier and paints a kaleidoscope of the rancher life.
The interesting album title was a phrase that was invented by the musician himself, telling a fan that it was "a term I invented to describe my style of tunes." Although Nashville and most of the southern United States remain the spiritual heartland for American country music, the Canadian-based cowboy has been steadily carving a name for himself in the country music fraternity with his rich melodies, storytelling gift and lovely voice.
Lund states, "There are people who do Western music and they kind of freeze-dry it, like museum stye. I don't do that at all. I'm interested in expressing myself currently. Which is actually what it feels like to have six generations of cowboy heritage thrown into the crazy 21st Century urban setting. I love the traditional style and I use it. But I approach it with abandon and irreverence." With 'Agricultural Tragic', Lund and his touring band the Hurtin' Albertans pay musical homage to the singer's family traditions, as well as being a love letter to Western music and culture.
We begin the album with ‘90 Seconds Of Your Time’, a punchy, anecdotal song about the time Lund encountered a murderous mountain guide who after mysteriously losing three mules and a horse from his camp, was eager to go on a trigger-happy rampage. Lund and band give this track a blues-rock spin to kick things off with bounce and groove.
‘Old Men’ has Lund lamenting the immediacy and short attention spans of modern-day life. Through the song, Lund seems to recount his childhood days on the ranch, paying his respects towards the wise old ranch hands that effortlessly ran the place. "I want old men makin' my whiskey / I want old men singin' my blues / And I want old men teachin’ my horses / ‘Cause there's just some things young men can’t do," he sings with bittersweet nostalgia. A Lynyrd Skynyrd-esque guitar solo cements this as one of the best songs on offer here. The track also serves as a musical homage to both sides of Lund’s family that have maintained a traditional, tech-free operation on their ranch. "Coming from that kind of background, you value generational knowledge, ability and wisdom are things that are valued, respected, and pursued," Lund revealed.
'I Think I Ought To Try Whiskey' seems like a rollicking, country-style take on Hank Thompson’s ‘Hangover Heart’. Sung as a duet with the Canadian songstress Jaida Dreyer, this cutesy, irreverent song has a couple having a funny yet adorable discussion on the ideal libation for the evening. Very reminiscent of the '60s back and forth duet-style storytelling, this track harkens back to the old, brighter, and happier country sound.
'Raining Horses' is a simple yet beautifully written ballad about the life of horse ranchers, with Lund painting a vivid picture of their many trials and tribulations for us. "If I could only see into the futurity / And if a cloud with silver lining waited there / Well I wouldn’t mind so much that it keeps pourin' down these ponies / And I’d make sure that I was always where," he sings.
With ‘Oklahomans’, Lund channels his musical alter-ego from his work with The Smalls and gives us a surf-rock romp by way of the Ramones. Presumably about his many adventures through Oklahoma while on the road, Lund’s cheeky, irreverent songwriting makes this really fun to dance to. Speaking about 'Agricultural Tragic', the singer stated, “The title also kinda reflects the two formative periods of my life that shaped the music I write today—the first growing up a ranch kid, rodeoing and chasing cattle, and the second spent in a very dark, underground metal band in my 20s.” That certainly helps explain the raucous yet light-hearted vibe of these tracks.
‘Grizzly Bear Blues’ is where Lund dials the irreverence up to 11 with a Primus-like sound. These hysterical lyrics tell you everything you need to know about the brilliantly-crafted song. "We've all heard that old chestnut, you know you don't outrun the grizz / You just outrun your slowest buddy, whoever that guy is / And that cub you found's adorable, he's cute, yes I agree / There's only one thing missin' and that's Momma, where is she?" The pure fun vibes make this album standout a must-listen.
The next track is the radio-friendly 'Dance With Your Spurs On'. An ode to the true-blue cowboy life, this is a groovy, rollicking song that has the makings of a dance-floor favorite. Lund paints a virtuous picture of frontier life as he sings, "Move your cattle easy / Treat your partner square / Rein your pony gentle / Play your hand out fair."
Lund then gives us a rousing ode to one of the greatest Western fiction writers ever, Louis L'Amour. Named after the author, 'Louis L'Amour' weaves in themes and stories from many of L’Amour’s cherished works, and strives to evoke the same kind of beautiful imagery that the author did. "You can't count anymore on Louis L'Amour / To paint (show) you the lay of the land / And tell ya who's on your side, stride for stride / And who's gonna ride for the brand," sings Lund with respect and reverence, as though L’Amour’s words may as well be gospel.
With ‘Never Not Had Horses’, Lund laments the slow decline of the cowboy way of life while singing of the plight of cowgirls. This slow country ballad about cowgirls living the old-fashioned life weaves an idyllic story of a woman who’s spent her life around horses. She is now finding herself without purpose as time takes its toll on her equine companions. "She rode to a one-room schoolhouse, learned her letters pass or fail / And each day her greatest teacher was just outside tied to the rail," goes a sample line.
‘Ranchin’, Ridin’, Romance' are presumably the three-Rs of the cowboy code. This groovy, get-up-and-dance number has an older rancher pass down some very wise words to a young-blood. "He said son, I can show ya how to best not overgraze your land / Give advice on finer points of ridin' broncs like an old hand / And then I'll tell you about the troubles with the ladies that I've had / Ranchin’, ridin’, romance, well two out of three ain't bad," Lund sings as he seemingly draws from past memories.
With ’Rat Patrol’, Lund shifts into a rock-n-roll gear, delivering a thumping, audacious romp of a song. Filled with infectious grooves and a Chuck Berry attitude, this is another great fun track to dance to.
We close with the strange but wonderful ‘Tattoo Blues’. Half slow-country blues jam, half limerick recital, Lund's clever and witty wordplay make for a great song about the permanent art on our bodies, which also conveniently and aptly serves as a great last impression.
All things considered, this is a fun, entertaining romp through groovy Americana fare. Lund and his Hurtin’ Albertans (aka drummer Brady Valgardson, guitarist Grant Siemens, and upright bass player Kurt Ciesla) do themselves proud by creating 12 fun yet narratively lush songs that veer into both light-hearted and profound territory. In a statement, Lund himself said, "I worked really hard on this album — harder than I've ever worked before. This time around I took my time and wrote more songs, rehearsed more with the band, and explored sounds much more deeply. It took some time, but I'm really proud of this one and I'm excited to finally be able to share it."