Photo by Colin Smith
There Are No Roads Where They LiveIt's tough to write about a band like Corb Lund. It's not an easy task, because there really isn't one (or more) elements of the music that I can point out and go, "Well here is why this band is fantastic, and you are very stupid for not seeing it." They're the kind of act that is so blatantly great on every level (probably because there's only one level for them to succeed on), all I can do is tell you a story: how they've taken a petulant little know-it-all shit, and turned him into someone who now knows nothing. And is goddamn proud of it.
by Jeffrey Thiessen
At some point, every Corb Lund fan has to realize that they dig a very uncool band. I mean what am I doing here? This is a band that writes songs about trucks getting stuck in the mud, and putting together an entire album about horses. I think inherently, every writer who plants his flag in favour of a certain band, wants the band to come out as triumphant victors in their own way, even if it's just for the duration of the article, but sometimes that's just not in the cards, no matter how hard we try. Sometimes, a band doesn't exist past face value. That is to say that their aesthetic qualities are all we can really look at, and to look at anything beyond that is just doing a disservice to the band, and especially the fans. So I won't do that, I'll accept the band for what they are, and hope you do the same, by NOT attempting to read between any lines.
One thing I always found funny in movies is how every small town seems to be these ultra-harmonic, aw-shucks types of communities that have things like diners and antique shops. Have you ever been to a small town like that? From my experience, the small towns I've been to are frequently laced with heavy drug/alcohol use, underage/unprotected sex, and a general refusal to get out on their own and see the world on their own terms, as opposed to whatever specific ideology their particular village has predominantly created for them. Obviously, it's just a romanticized version of a better time, before cable and the internet came along and ruined everything, but clearly this is a vision that doesn't exist- a nice alternative to ponder when faced with the daily hardships of city life. But it's ultimately just a mirage that lends itself to countless 'grass is greener' type clichés. Of course those dang-nabbit types of towns don't exist, but the idea of them is certainly an appealing one. Appealing, because from the outside, everything looks picture-perfect.
For a second, imagine there was a small town like we always see in the movies, a romanticized version of a better time that probably never really existed in the first place. Complete with a flowing river perfect for fly-fishing, a mailman who still delivers the milk in glass bottles, and a guaranteed certainty of a return-wave whenever you thrust your open palm out towards any passerby on the street. Corb Lund would be the soundtrack to that town.
Or maybe it's beyond that. Maybe Corb Lund IS that town, melted down in a vat and merged into audio form. Now I'm starting to think they represent a willingness on the part of the listener to frequently forego any prior musical knowledge they feel they are entitled to, and succumb to the wonderful unfussiness that is Corb Lund. Who knew doing so little would take so much effort?
Corb Lund is a band that sounds like nobody else out there, but make no mistake- this is not a deliberate move on their part. I just bought their new album entitled Horse Solider! Horse Solider! and my initial response was of the 'what the fuck' variety. Consider the opening lyrics of the album opener, "I Wanna Be In the Cavalry":
I wanna be in the cavalry if they send me off to war
I wanna good steed under me like my forefathers before
I wanna good mount when the bungie sounds and I hear the cannons roar
I wanna horse in the volunteer force that's riding forth at dawn
I've been a Corb Lund fan for many years now, so I shouldn't have been surprised by these sorts of lyrics to open an album, even if he's talking about jumping on a steed in the Civil War era. Still though, I wondered. I wonder about their intentions a lo, because it's how I'm wired. I am always concerned just what exactly a band has on their mind, and what they're trying to get across, because man, I live in a time of Radiohead, The Strokes, and Interpol- all very deliberate acts. You gotta understand that we live in an age where image and demographics are everything, with the music often serving no purpose other than adhering to whatever program their record label has already laid neatly on the bed for them. Aural identity generally is assumed through a variety of posturing and think-pieces from e-zines trying to find 'the next big thing.' It's not easy these days to hear something at core value and say "Yes, I dig it," because it's so easy to be disappointed an album or two later when they hire Amy Winehouse to do backup vocals.
We don't jump in headfirst anymore. Instead we wade around in the shallow end, hoping that the band we put our trust in doesn't piss in the pool. So yeah, I'm worried that a sudden warm patch of water will flood my cockles. I'm terrified of any record that finds its way into my stereo. Shit, I don't know their intentions. I'm the girl who has jumped into bed with any guy who has taken the time to lie to me, and now I'm known as the jaded slut even though I'm merely a product of prolonged deception. Yet, I buy into it all.
I'm trying, unsuccessfully perhaps, to audition on the behalf of Corb Lund because there is not a fraction of a shred of them that is anything but totally, and stupidly heartfelt, and that should make them stick out like a sore thumb, but instead they will probably be delegated to relative obscurity in the name of pragmatics and probability theory. Good rock 'n' roll is anything that reaffirms your dedication to life, even if you don't consciously acknowledge it, and Corb Lund is a literal, auditory extension of your life, my life. People are strange, and we like strange things, so why in the fuck do we keep supporting the bands that are simply supporting their right to have their records sold at Wal Mart? Nobody makes a record about life anymore, life on their terms that isn't just tearing pages out of a diary for some lame attempt at catharsis, either to them or the listener (who cares, really). Don't you want a band that unapologetically lays its boring and awkward life on the line, and then celebrates the goddamn thing? If you don't, then I do encourage you to keep on celebrating the glorious and meandering journey into the medium. Godspeed.
I don't know about you, but I'm tired of my music having a backstory. I want a band to exist in a vacuum, screaming from beneath the waves until I shut off the record, at which point collapses back unto itself. I haven't really spent much time discussing the actual music found on Horse Solider! Horse Solider! and that's because their music doesn't subsist once the Stop button is pressed. It's more then just a breath of fresh air from your usual masquerade of bravado polluting your (and everybody's really) record collection. Instead it's god itself, blowing air into your lungs and allowing you, albeit temporarily, to see things in your life free from the burden of everyday paranoia you have been programmed to constantly acknowledge. I more then love this record. I trust it. I believe in it. Yeah, I'm imploring you to buy a record about horses, but it's really just an album that wants to be noble the only way Corb Lund knows how to be, and that's by making music as though there is not an outside world waiting to hear it.
I hear over and over how certain records change people's lives, and it's always these gigantic epic things, like Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, or The Stones' Sticky Fingers, and that's probably because they are huge fucking records that have that sort of power to alter a person's perception, that is if the person wakes up and feels the need to be overwhelmed by something much larger then their mundane existence. Alcoholics may refer to these moments as a 'moment of clarity.' I get it.
But what I don't get is why these revelations can only happen on a grandiose scale. Can't revelations start/end every single day? Do these sudden realizations always have to take years of built up numbness/apathy to eventually build up to a musical catalyst that will help you see everything clearer? I don't think so.
Here's where I'm an optimist: I think we can get that swift, spiritual kick to the head anytime we want, and it just takes something that acknowledges everything simple and simultaneously profound on their own terms, for us to challenge everything complicated in our own lives, willingly surrendering to simplicity. There is a great quote from Diderot that I'll never forget: "No man will ever be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest." Well, freedom is within reach and Corb Lund is doing the strangling, even if they're too busy yodelling to know what they're freeing us from.
Also see the Corb Lund official site
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