Features April 8, 2024

Corb Lund’s ‘El Viejo’ – Stories, Roots, and Revelations

by Ely Corliss

Corb Lund is a Canadian singer-songwriter from Alberta, known for his distinctive blend of country, western, and roots music that he has assembled into a large catalog of originals over the past 3 decades of releasing music. Born into a family with a long history of ranching, his music often draws upon his experiences and heritage, offering narratives that span from personal anecdotes to broader themes of life in the rural West, environmental issues, and even historical events. Before embarking on a solo career, Lund was the bass guitarist for the indie rock band the smalls. Transitioning to a focus on country and roots music, he has gained critical acclaim and a dedicated following around the world for his storytelling, humor, and musicianship.

Over the years, Lund has released several albums, both with his backing band, The Hurtin’ Albertans, and as a solo artist. His work has earned him multiple Canadian Country Music Awards and Juno Awards nominations, reflecting his significant impact on the Canadian music scene. His newest effort “El Viejo” out now on New West Records stands as yet another milestone in his storied career in songwriting and storytelling.

“It’s one of my favorites, actually. I think it’s our 10th record of originals so it’s nice to have a good one that far in. We didn’t peak…

His words, delivered with a touch of a Canadian accent and his well apparent humor, underscore a career that has defied expectations, continuing to evolve and resonate with his audiences.

“I get bored of love songs.” Corb confessed. “I like to write about weird shit… There’s so many other interesting things to write about and I get bored easily.” Jaida Dreyer, a name well-recognized in the realms of country and Americana music, lent her songwriting prowess to “El Viejo” on several tracks including “Redneck Rehab” a song that elicits visions of methadone withdrawal in a double-wide. “I wrote another song on this record, strangely, it’s called ‘When The Game Gets Hot’ with this guy Brian Koppelman who is a friend of mine. He’s got a podcast and discovered me that way,” Lund shares, shedding light on another unexpected but fruitful collaboration. Brian Koppelman, renowned for his work as a screenwriter on films like “Rounders” and “Ocean’s 13,” among other Hollywood projects. The partnerships between Lund, Dreyer, and Koppelman are a testament to the universal appeal of good storytelling.

Inspiration for the title track comes from the legendary Ian Tyson, Lund reveals. “That was our nickname for him. It means ‘The Old Man’,” Lund says, sharing the story behind the title track of “El Viejo”. The album was recorded almost entirely live with his band. This method, rooted in simplicity, gives the album a distinct and consistent character, setting it apart in an era often dominated by heavily produced music. “I put a ton of work into the songs and I had them a lot further along when we went to record them than I usually do.” he explains. Lund’s commitment to authenticity shaped the very foundation of “El Viejo.” “I did it all acoustically and super organically. There’s no computer trickery, there’s no layering, there’s no replacing parts, it’s just the 4 of us sitting in a circle with a bunch of microphones, all playing together,” Lund describes the recording process for the album which was recorded in his living room in southern Alberta. The acoustic nature of “El Viejo” is a testament to Lund’s love for the pure, unadulterated sounds of traditional instruments. “It’s all acoustic too. There’s nothing electric on it all. It’s all mandolins, banjos, and acoustic guitars. I just love acoustic sounds,” he enthuses. This choice not only highlights Lund’s musical preferences but also lends the album an “airiness” as Corb called it, a quality that allows the vocal harmonies—particularly those between Lund and his new bass player, Sean Burns—to shine. “My new bass player Sean Burns sings so well with me that we really wanted to showcase our vocal harmonies,” Lund shares.

The first single, “That Old Familiar Drunken Feeling,” recounts a particularly memorable experience with edibles before a show in Laporte, CO. Lund’s recounting of the ordeal is both humorous and harrowing: “It was awful. It’s not my thing. We all ate a gummy bear and one of my guys are pot guys so it was no big deal for them, but I was fucked.” The song is a testament to Lund’s ability to transform even the most challenging moments into compelling stories and what is certainly the most viral track on the new record. “It’s psychologically challenging to play a show anyways sometimes. It’s not an easy job… Then if you’re high and your mind’s playing tricks on you and you get paranoid… it was very bad. I had to drink my way out of it,” he recalls with a chuckle.

As Corb Lund and The Hurtin’ Albertans prepare themselves to present “El Viejo” to their fans, the album stands as a banner addition to his already impressive body of work. Rooted in the rich “organic” soil of his experiences, Lund’s latest venture not only enriches his musical legacy but also continues to solidify his position as a storyteller of the first order.