Canadian country and western singer-songwriter Corb Lund is a funny guy. He’s also smart, good with wordplay, and knows how to tell a story. On Lund’s latest album, Agricultural Tragic, he addresses a wide range of topics from grizzly bears to tattoos, hunting rats to hunting elk, the meaning of author Louis L’Amour’s fiction to the meaning of life, and that crazy friend who might just get you killed, with a wry smile and an earnest heart. More importantly, the songs do so in a variety of musical styles including rockabilly and western swing that keeps things from ever getting boring. The only thing tragic about the new album is that it’s only 12 short songs long (they average about three minutes each).
Agricultural Tragic is Lund’s 11th studio album, and his experience shows. He knows how to build momentum, when to be playful and when to get serious. He even has a song about the benefits of aging when it comes to certain tasks. He sings: “I want old men makin’ my whiskey / I want old men singin’ my blues / I want old men teachin’ my horses / ‘Cause there’s just some things young men can’t do / Like the old boys do.”
Sure, these lines stereotype. They are not only ageist; they are sexist. The message is not hurtful to others but merely express a personal preference in a playful manner. Like many generalities, they have the ring of truth to them that only dissipates when you think about it. Lund understands this. He puts it out there, and by doing so, he is mocking himself as inadequate to the tasks at hand. He is middle-aged and in the context of the song, not up for the work that both young and older men and women can do better than he can.
While Lund claims on this track that he wants old men making his whiskey, he’s not so particular on the humorous duet with fellow Canadian country singer Jaida Dreyer “I Think You Oughta Try Whiskey”. Lund again engages in myth and hyperbole to make his case. He proclaims the merits of the brown stuff while Dreyer asserts the virtue of gin over a train engine style beat that would make Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two proud. Corb’s band the Hurtin’ Albertans features his long-time accompanists drummer Brady Valgardson, guitar player Grant Siemens, and upright bass player Kurt Ciesla.
The more serious songs still contain humorous elements that deepen Lund’s insights. The true-life tale of a hunting expedition that turns into something more murderous, “90 Seconds of Your Time”, addresses post-traumatic stress disorder in a profoundly personal way. Lund notes the interdependence between people and horses on two songs, “Never Not Had Horses” and “Raining Horses”, the latter of which focuses on the glut of equines dumped on farms as a result of recent legislation and the financial costs involved. Or as Lund notes on the bouncy “Ranchin’, Ridin’, Romance”, learning about mounts is an essential part of three Rs of rural life.
At times Agricultural Tragic may purposely sound old fashioned at times to suggest a more glorious past, but it is a distinctly contemporary album. Lund mourns what’s been lost, but his lyrics suggest that he understands that change is an inevitable fact of life. The best one can do is to hang on, be glad one’s alive, and laugh at the absurdity of one’s circumstances.