Corb Lund has learned some lessons over two decades of playing country music, but one in particular sticks with him.
“The dumber the song, the better it does on country radio,” he told a crowd packed into the warm Hill Country basement on a frigid Sunday night. “[Forget] this intelligence [stuff]. I’m just going to write dumb songs.”
Unfortunately for his sales, no one could accuse Lund, the Alberta-born singer-songwriter whose Canadian accent turns to twang as soon as he starts playing guitar, of writing dumb songs. Bizarre songs? Well, sure. During his energetic, stream-of-consciousness-filled set of rockabilly tunes, Lund and his band (the Hurtin’ Albertans) covered subjects about life in Western Canada that should have been unrelatable to Washingtonians. But the songs were filled with so much rich, quirky detail that the 100 or so in the audience paid rapt attention.
Topics included: Cougar populations in Alberta (“Truth Comes Out”); the Canadian oil industry (“Gettin’ Down On the Mountain,” “Roughest Neck Around”); ranching advice (“Always Keep An Edge on Your Knife”); logistics of getting an upright bass on an airplane (“Big Butch Bass Big Fiddle”); and “vampire chic” women (“The Gothest Girl I Can”).
“I wrote this song hoping more Goth girls would come to our shows,” Lund said of the latter. “It’s not working at all, really.”
Is there any wonder he’s only had brief brushes of success with country radio? Although he’s a big deal in Canada, Lund has only achieved niche U.S. popularity. Still, the people that love him really love him, as fans screamed out song requests and brought him drinks on stage. Lund repaid the favor by playing from his whole catalogue, claiming he didn’t have a set list.
Though he mainly sings self-described “rough-and-tumble dude songs,” Lund got serious with a few mournful tunes about love gone wrong, including “September” and “One Left in the Chamber.” He immediately apologized for bringing down the festive mood: “I’m sorry, that was kind of a bummer, right?”
Mostly, though, he was in high spirits, making Canada jokes and giving Caps fans a shout out as he recapped the nail-biter game between the United States and Canada in the 2010 Winter Olympics. (Apparently Canadians were thinking, “Please God, don’t let the Americans win, or they’ll make another movie out of it.”)
Overall, Lund seemed delighted to school the D.C. crowd in the ways of Canada, and his brand of specifically authentic country music. “It’s kind of weird singing this song in a big city,” he confessed during “Cows Around,” an ode to cattle ranchers.
“This is a cowboy song — people throw that term around a lot,” he added. “What it really means is some poor bastard has to look after cattle.”
Luckily, he said, although most of his family members are ranchers — a thankless job with little income — he broke the cycle. “I play music,” he noted dryly. “There’s a lot more money in that.”