Corb Lund half-jokingly refers to album title Agricultural Tragic (out June 26 on New West Records) as the name of his Hurtin' Albertan's own country music sub-genre. He's seriously onto something because just like Ruston Kelly's dirt-emo, Agricultural Tragic aptly fits an artist embracing music and life experiences from his younger days without lazily retreading his influence's steps.
For Lund, honoring the past has nothing to do with the past 30 years' pop culture touchstones and everything to do with sharing lessons learned and stories heard on his family ranch in Alberta, Canada.
"For all of the country music out there, there's really not that much that has a lot of rural content in it about the actual realities of living an agricultural, rural lifestyle," he adds.
Lund stresses where these stories took place, whether they happened back home or on the road. "90 Seconds of Your Time," for instance, tells of a hunting trip in Idaho that Lund took with Evan Felker of the Turnpike Troubadours.
This range of cowboy themes and true stories from Lund's life doesn't mean city folks will struggle to relate to the songs on Agricultural Tragic. Just as a week-long vacation in New Jersey is not needed to wrap your head around a Bruce Springsteen album, Lund's locale-specific stories hit home even if you've never stepped foot in a cow pasture.
"I've always thought it's important to have regionalism in your art," Lund says. "I think it's really important to write about where you're from or whatever your background is, wether it's New Jersey or Alberta, Canada or Texas or whatever. I think it's important for authenticity's sake to write about where you're from. I know people that go to Nashville and try to pretend they're from the South when they're not, and it's stupid. There's plenty of Southern people who should write that music because they're from there."
Upholding the Western half of what used to be called country & Western music doesn't mean Lund prefers escapist nostalgia over addressing the here-and-now, as established by new song "Louis L'Amour."
"All of us cowboy kids read him as a kid," Lund says. "I was introduced to Louis L'Amour by my grandfather at a very young age. He's one of those guys that you read that stuff and you get that idea of the Old West as the good old days. The whole point of the song is there was never really a golden age. It was as messy back then as now. Maybe more. It's sort of juxtaposing the myth of the West with the modern West where there's a lot of modern problems."
Nor does Lund commit to a particular Western-inspired sound on any studio album. For example, new album Agricultural Tragic strays off the beaten path with brief moments of rockabilly ("Rat Patrol") and even a light-hearted recitation ("Tattoos Blues").
"I've never put a poem on a record before," Lund says of "Tattoos Blues." "I play pretty Western cowboy music, and I've been going to this event every year for 12 years called the Elko, Nevada National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. I think it rubbed off on me. I wrote that stupid song about tattoos, and I showed it to my band and tried to figure out how to do it musically. I was reciting it, and they were like, 'Just keep doing it like a poem. It's awesome.'"
Sonic variety and lyrical levity keep things fresh for Lund as a songwriter while offering Americana listeners the eclecticism they crave.
"I like a record to be an emotional journey," he adds. "I like variety, whether it's fast songs and slow songs or loud songs and quiet songs or fun songs and sad songs. All of those elements go to making an interesting 45 minutes of music. The same goes for live. When I put together a set list, I like to have kind of a roller coaster."
For Lund's spin on classic country, check out "I Think You Oughta Try Whiskey," a Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn-style duet featuring Jaida Dreyer, the singer-songwriter behind Real Country (2018) highlight "Jack It to Jesus (Spray It to Hell)."
Lund wanted to land a past star to add old-school credibility before discovering that one of his closest friends in the music business should be the Loretta to his Conway.
"Jaida was in the studio because she was singing on another song we wrote together, and I got her to sing the song as a demo, he says. "She nailed it so well that I was like, 'Damn, I'm going to keep her version. It's great.'"
The plan for a different Dreyer co-write, "Never Not Had Horses," also changed during the recording process.
"That's about what we call being horse poor: when you've got lots of horses but no money," Lund says. "It's funny because it started out as kind of a fun song, but then I slowed it down and used a bunch of minor chords and it turned into this lament about loss and desperation. It's about having too many horses and trying to find that one that's going to make it all worthwhile. In a larger sense, it's about clinging to threads of hope. It also relates to horse people, because it's very much a part of the deal with that stuff."
For a different take on Lund's influences, revisit the Sept. 2019 release Cover Your Tracks. It finds Lund and his longtime backing band reinterpreting the works of artists ranging from the obvious (Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, The Eagles) to the surreal (AC/DC, Nancy Sinatra, Billy Joel) while maintaining their straight-off-the-ranch appeal. It gets its first vinyl release on Sept. 26-- the second of three Saturdays slated for Record Store Day releases (with the others being August 29 and October 24).
Agricultural Tragic Tracklist
1. "90 Seconds of Your Time"
2. "Old Men"
3. "I Think You Oughta Try Whiskey" (Ft. Jaida Dreyer)
4. "Raining Horses "
6. "Grizzly Bear Blues"
7. "Dance With Your Spurs On"
8. "Louis L'Amour"
9. "Never Not Had Horses"
10. "Ranchin', Ridin', Romance (Two Outta Three Ain't Bad)"
11. "Rat Patrol"
12. "Tattoos Blues"