Corb Lund 2024
Photo: Noah Fallis / New West Records

Corb Lund Pays Tribute to Ian Tyson on ‘El Viejo’

Corb Lund’s El Viejo is an entirely acoustic album with guitar, banjo, mandolin, string bass, and stripped-down bass, but it never feels like one.

El Viejo
Corb Lund
New West
23 February 2024

Corb Lund is a Canadian country music cowboy who tells catchy stories about rural life and big-city pitfalls. His fables may not have particular morals. His protagonists frequently find themselves in problematic situations of their own making. This creates some funny situations, although maybe not too humorous for the main characters. The tales are frequently told in the first person. Lund can both laugh at himself and sympathize with others. The songs are amusing even when they address serious topics.

El Viejo is dedicated to Ian Tyson, the author of such classic songs as “Four Strong Winds” and “Someday Soon”. Lund’s work and life story owe a lot to Tyson. Tyson was a working rancher and a musician. He was more than just an influence on Lund. Tyson was a friend and mentor. The title song, “El Viejo” (usually translated as “the old man”), pays loving tribute to Tyson’s example of a life well-lived.

Lund’s other characters don’t fare as well. There’s a card player who learned how to cheat from his father and knows not to swindle too much lest he get caught, a girl who left the farm to play the guitar but found the music business more difficult than she imagined, the rotten guy who prides himself on getting worse (with practice) every day, the redneck whose rehab palace is a single-wide trailer out in the boondocks. These are life’s losers. As the gamblers and risk-takers of Lund’s song lyrics know, the deck is stacked against success. That doesn’t keep one from trying.

In fact, some people want to fail. There’s the guy who knows “I Had It All” but didn’t feel comfortable with it, and the one who wonders, “Was Fort Worth Really Worth It” when he contemplates his past. Others grasp for that golden ring, knowing but not admitting to themselves that the good times are done, like the over-the-hill wrestler who wants to go “Out On a Win” or the nameless believer of “Insha’allah” who dreams about the future. Lund compassionately tells their stories even when he keeps his tongue in cheek. His perspective is predicated on the fact that people are strange and do funny things to find a purpose in the world or at least to alleviate their boredom.

Corb Lund follows in the Western cowboy tradition of telling tall tales ala Baxter Black and Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, without stretching things too far. He has a clever sense of wordplay. (Note: while it is impossible to read the small print on the enclosed lyric sheet with the CD, the singer clearly articulates each word with a Western Canadian accent). Lund stresses the rhythmic elements while narrating the action. In “That Old Familiar Drunken Feeling”, he croons, “So, in a desperate position, made the desperate decision that I’d handle this the cowboy way / Which is to pour enough whiskey on the problem till it catches on fire or it goes away” as if he’s reading a formal poem in contrast to the less than serious topic. In this case, Lund and his outfit were in Colorado and did too many edibles and had to get really drunk to feel normal and perform.

El Viejo is an entirely acoustic album with guitar, banjo, mandolin, string bass, and stripped-down bass, but it never feels like one. The players’ energy and Lund’s vocals drive the songs forward. There’s a liveliness throughout the record that never goes away. The album may be dedicated to an “old man”, but the music has plenty of get-up-and-go.

RATING 7 / 10