Long before Alberta’s Corb Lund – performing at the Tide & Boar Ballroom in Moncton on Thursday – broke through with his 2002 effort Five Dollar Bill, he had carved out a wildly successful career with Edmonton band the smalls.
From the time they formed in the dying days of the 80’s through to their break-up in 2001, the heavy metal and punk influenced group was held in the highest regard by fans in Western Canada. Although that same success seemed to elude the smalls anywhere east of Manitoba, the group’s incredibly good fortune, including tens of thousands of records sold, and standing room only shows, was a testament to the lasting impact they had upon audiences.
While the smalls were mesmerizing and dazzling audiences, however, group bassist Corb Lund launched a project rooted in classic country music, issuing a pair of full-length releases, Modern Pain and Unforgiving Mistress, in 1995 and 1999, respectively.
It was his next three releases, following the smalls break-up – Five Dollar Bill, 2005’s Hair In My Eyes Like A Highland Steer, and Horse Soldier! Horse Soldier! (2007) – that would ultimately solidify Lund as a force to be reckoned with on his own.
Each of those albums would attain Gold-selling status in Canada, and also play a significant role in helping the singer-songwriter land an American record deal with New West Records, helping expose Lund to American audiences for the first time. That label has now released four efforts from Lund, including his most recent masterpiece, 2015’s Things That Can’t Be Undone.
Produced by Dave Cobb (Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson), the album earned Lund some of the most widespread acclaim of his career, drawing rave reviews from high-profile publications in his native Canada, the U.S., and the U.K.
Although the path from being a metal head to playing classic country music may seem like an unlikely career switch to some, Lund insists the spirit of country music, whether from a lyrical or musical perspective, often goes hand-in-hand with growing up in Alberta.
“Even with the smalls, we were combining heavy music with western themes,” Lund says. “So finding my way into a solo career playing country music wasn’t that significant of a stretch for me. It wasn’t necessarily jarring from a fan perspective either, because no matter how much of a punk, metalhead or goth fan you are, if you’re from Alberta, you’ve got an uncle that listens to Waylon Jennings, even if you don’t. It’s very much a part of the culture in the province.”
Lund admits that while he wasn’t necessarily surprised at his good fortune of having his material connect with audiences in his home province, he was unsure how those themes would ultimately connect with music fans outside of Alberta.
“Some of the stuff I am singing about, especially in some of my earlier material, is quite regionally focused. I wasn’t initially sure how well it would translate outside of Alberta, but it turned out well in the Western U.S., and places like Montana and Wyoming and even down as far as Texas. They tend to be able to identify with these themes pretty quickly.”
Of course, none of this is meant to insinuate that Lund’s success is somehow regionally limited. In addition to drawing well through virtually all corners of Canada, he has also found success in metropolitan cities like New York, Seattle and Portland as well.
Lund says some of the most diverse audiences he plays before are located within the larger cities.
“You can almost split my audience down the middle on most nights. One half is your traditional country music fan, while the other half are your folk festival attendees, and others that have found their way to me. Willie Nelson has long been one of my heroes. When he was building up his following, he was famous for having diversity in his audience. I feel fortunate to play for an audience anywhere I go, let alone a diverse one. In this day and age of divided politics, music can be a good unifier.”
Lund’s ability to unify audiences won’t be in question during his current Atlantic Canadian tour. He kicked off the trek this past Sunday in Wolfville, N.S. and will be touching down in 15 different cities and communities by the time the tour wraps up on May 20 in St. John’s, Nfld.
While the extensive nature of Lund’s foray into Atlantic Canada is unique in itself, the shows will be performed without the help of his versatile backing band The Hurtin’ Albertans. He insists his long-time band is not going anywhere, but is also looking forward to the intimacy that a solo performance can bring.
“I love playing with my band, and playing solo is just another facet of what I do,” he says. “I truly enjoy playing solo because it opens up so much more in the way of space with respect to how I interact with the audience and how I choose to interpret the material. Playing solo means I get to chitchat more on stage, and share with people the details behind some of the songs. Sometimes, I will even stop mid-song to give the audience insight into a particular verse or passage. I would never have done that when I was younger, but find there’s a certain freedom in it now.”
What: Corb Lund
When: Thursday May 4, 8 p.m.
Where: The Tide & Boar Ballroom, 700 Main St., Moncton
Tickets are $35. Advance tickets are available online at www.tideandboar.com/music