These Albertans are far from hurtin’

A concert review
by Chris Hibbard
The Meliorist

These Albertans are far from hurtin’

Thursday night was a genuine grade-A delight as one of southern Alberta’s musical treasures dropped by to say howdy at the Enmax Centre.

Corb Lund was raised on ranches near Taber and Cardston, then moved to Edmonton where he studied music. It wasn’t long before Lund, a bassist, was tearin’ the roof off of clubs in Calgary and Lethbridge with his DIY country-metal-punk hybrid trio The Smalls. The Smalls broke up in 2001 after selling 30,000-plus copies of their four independent albums and headlining hundreds of memorable gigs in Canada and Europe. But all was not lost as proven this evening, for Lund is still singing loud and proud; and if the mixed-background audience at the Enmax centre was any indication, it seems that everyone is paying attention – especially in southern Alberta.

But first, the crowd was treated to an accomplished set by opener Hayes Carll, a rising star in the New Texas Americana scene. Reminiscient of Steve Earle, Carll is touring in support of his latest release, Trouble In Mind. It was easy to tell why Lund had adopted him as his tour mate, for their lyrics and style complement each other well. Yet after a short break, it was time for the homegrown heroes: Corb Lund and The Hurtin’ Albertans.

Dressed in full red civil-war dress, complete with helmet and sabre, Corb Lund announced the group’s entrance with a piercing bugle blast. A drum march followed, leading the way into three songs off of Lund’s fifth and newest album, Horse Soldier! Horse Soldier!. The album is an inspired musical homage to soldiering and war – with a thematic emphasis on cavalry horses used during the American Civil War.
These opening songs, “I Wanna Be in the Calvary”, “Horse Soldier!”, and “Student Visas”, are all romantic songs about the warrior spirit; about Custer and the Sioux, about Reagan and the Contras, Vietnam, Huey choppers, and napalm.

Taking a little break to introduce themselves, Lund modestly asked, “How ya doin’ Southern Alberta!”, then invited the sitting crowd to get up out of their seats and move to the front. I couldn’t help but notice a temporary rise in tension and attention from the nearest security guards as Lund said this, but Lund fans seem a good-natured mob, and security had nothing to worry about, particularly since
The Hurtin’ Albertans slowed it down just a bit to play “Gonna Shine Up My Boots”, which featured some excellent lap steel guitar work by guitarist Grant “Demon” Siemens. Siemens hails from Winnipeg when not touring with the boys.

After the one tune, Lund paused and said “There, that’s better, feels more like a saloon already”, and then introduced the Hurtin’ Albertans, who have recently been touring around the world, “…doin’ our best to be ambassadors”, as Lund put it.

The next song was all about truckin’; a love song to driving big rigs in Canada; from up and over the Rockies via the Coquihalla all the way through Saskatchewan and beyond.

Really getting the crowd moving again with “Good Copenhagen”, which details why chewing tobacco is Lund’s drug of choice, Lund poked a little fun at the Enmax Centre and Lethbridge city council, saying: “I heard Snoop Dogg was here a while back and got into some trouble for songs like that.” His joke was warmly received.

While Lund then disappeared for a moment, fans were treated to a scarily awesome solo provided by upright-bass player Kurt Ciesla – a bass solo that Cliff Burton would’ve been proud of. Ciesla used to teach bass lessons here in Lethbridge, and was obviously remembered, for some audience members in the front row passed a large cardboard sign on to the stage which read “We Love Kurt!”

Lund returned from backstage in different dress: “dressing like my grandfather” as he put it, dressed fine in his country best. Keeping the night rolling right along, the Hurtin’ Albertans then played the upbeat “Little Foothills Heaven” (featuring Lund’s impressive yodeling skills) followed by the country-rockin’ crowd-pleaser “Always Keep an Edge on Your Knife”; an opportunity for Grant Siemens to showcase his skills on the banjo.

Fans were treated next to another new tune, “Family Reunion”,the second single off of Horse Soldier!. Lund proudly announced beforehand that there’s a new video for this song, that was “filmed in the Ft. Macleod barber shop.”

Next up was a very traditional version of Willie Nelson’s famous waltz, “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys.” But it wasn’t long before the many denim-covered butts in attendance were wiggling away again, and were singing along in call-and-response style to the band’s “disco-cowboy song” as Lund referred to it: “Hair In My Eyes Like A Highland Steer”.

Throughout the entire night, and especially noticeable during the more rockin’ tunes such as that one, was the precision skin work of drummer Brady Valgardson. Valgardson, who shares Taber roots with Lund, never missed a beat the whole evening, proving to truly be the backbone for an already very tight quartet.

During the next song, “Trouble In the Country”, Siemens played a beautiful Stratocaster guitar, backing up Lund and his lyrics about agriculture and economic troubles: “We tried to sell my cows but the border got closed / So we’ll tighten up the belt and ride it out I s’pose / Feedin’ calved out heifers and their young un’s too, spending money on hay to feed beef I can’t use.”

Looking around the arena during the next tune “Big Butch Bass Bull Fiddle”, it seemed that nearly all 1700-plus people in attendance were tappin’ their toes and boppin’ along. In this manner, by the time an hour had passed, it felt like it had been no time at all.

Lund sucks you in with clever and humorous songs about issues and occurrences unique to western Canada, and delivers them in an old-fashioned good ol’ boy country manner. All I know is that with dozens of songs about playing cards, drinkin’ whiskey, and cattle drives mixed in with acoustic covers of songs by Willie Nelson and The Smalls, I selfishly wish that The Hurtin’ Albertans would never stop touring their home province. That way we could keep ‘em a little secret all for ourselves.

~ by Chris Hibbard on October 31, 2008.

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