On his latest, Canadian country singer Corb Lund abandons modern revisionist country pretensions in favor of a stripped-down, story song-focused approach that leans heavily on the early country/folk rock sound of the Byrds, Gram Parsons, and on at least one track, the Beatles. Unlike a number of his peers, Lund looks to a transitional period in country music for inspiration, when the genre began adopting elements of the burgeoning rock scene and vice-versa. Using minimal overdubs and a standard four-piece band setup, Lund places the focus squarely on the songs themselves, the instrumentation a mere facilitator of the message.
From the dry production of Things That Can’t Be Undone’s opening track, the shuffling outlaw soul of “Weight of the Gun”, through the almost conversational, sentimental closer “Sunbeam”, Lund shows himself to be an exceptionally gifted songwriter. Each of these ten tracks plays out as sort of linear narrative, a life’s story in miniature.
The twin epics “Sadr City” and “S Lazy H” are both prime examples of Lund’s subtle observational gifts, the latter playing out as a heartbreaking elegy to a quickly vanishing lifestyle while the former chronicles the frustrations of having to embark on tours. It’s not until that song’s second verse the “tour” in question proves not to be yet another life-on-the-road tale, but one focused on a soldier fearing redeployment. Highly affecting, both hearken back to the more humanistic approach to songwriting that originally helped make country music the music of the people rather than merely a lifestyle aesthetic.
Fortunately, not everything here is as thematically heavy as “Sadr City”, “S Lazy H”, or even the devastatingly gorgeous “Alice Eyes”. On “Washed-Up Rock Star Factory Blues”, Lund delivers a follow-up of sorts to Johnny Paycheck’s blue-collar classic “Take This Job and Shove It”, finding a protagonist similar to that song’s, having to begrudgingly reenter the workforce he so dramatically abandoned. “Well I done a lot of singing about sticking it to the man / Today’s the day he’s gonna stick it right back if he can,” he sings, concluding that, “Having trouble with authority works better in a song / They’re gonna take that job and shove it right back at me all day long.” An amusing approach to the tried and true underdog formula, “Washed-Up Rock Star Factory Blues” provides a much more realistic picture of the ramifications of Paycheck’s brazen, declarative statements.
Where others tend to play up the standard country tropes, Lund wraps his studied twang in a sparer form of country rock, one more beholden to the Flying Burrito Brothers than the more recent alt-country movement. In this, he uses a rawer approach that, despite the slicker production, feels more akin to the rudimentary production of early country and folk rock. On “Alt Berliner Blues” the band apes a Beatles riff, relies on a shuffling two/four beat and employs a talking blues style lyrical delivery. Similarly, “Talk Too Much” utilizes a lead guitar figure that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on any number of mid-‘60s one-offs.
Free from any sort of filler, Things That Can’t Be Undone offers a strong set of exceptional country-based songs that clock in at just under 40 minutes. Given the album’s relative brevity and unfussy arrangements and production, the songs breeze by, settling in long enough to take hold of the listener and leave a lasting impression. Melodically engaging and narratively compelling, Things That Can’t Be Undone furthers the case for Corb Lund as one of the best contemporary country songwriters. Continuing a winning streak that has now spanned several albums, Lund shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon. In a just world, he need not fear turning into the protagonist of “Washed-Up Rock Star Factory Blues”.
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