Corb Lund says it isn't such a bad thing that most fans in the United States have only discovered him from his last two albums.
"One interesting byproduct is they only want to hear the new songs," says Lund in a phone call from the road. "This is our seventh record. We've been banging our heads against the wall for so long trying to get people in the States to listen.
Lund is a native of Alberta, Canada, and comes from a family of ranchers and rodeo riders. In fact, he did quite a bit of ranch work before pursuing music and he won his first rodeo prize at age 10. He gained quite a bit of fame with his speed metal band The Smalls, but he splintered off to make more country & western music in the mid-1990s when The Smalls weren't touring. Many of his rock fans followed and before long the side project became Lund's primary musical outlet.
"It's easier to get rock people to listen to country than the other way around," says Lund. "And in Alberta, it's sort of in your DNA."
Plus, he says, his parents were thrilled with the new direction.
Lund spent some time in the Austin, Texas, music community, but it was in his home country where he earned a solid following. The Canadian Country Music Association named him Roots Artist of the Year for seven years in a row; he won the Juno Award for Roots and Traditional Album of the Year in 2006; and his most recent album, "Cabin Fever," went to No. 1 on the Canadian album chart.
Back home, fans want to hear old favorites.
"You can't complain about having songs people like, but every artist wants to play their new songs," says Lund.
His new songs are a wild combination of styles (from Western swing to almost surf rock), but it all seems to make sense. He's happy to take chances on albums.
"So many people make records that are sort of the same-ish, But, you know, there's so much music history — so much to steal from! ... And I feel lucky that my band is so versatile. I record with my touring band and we've been together forever and ever. Any twist, they can play whatever."
It was not commercial music that first caught Lund's ear. It was hearing his grandfather sing the old cowboy song "Strawberry Road."
"In those days, music was more of a personal history, personal entertainment sort of a thing," says Lund. "Then when I was a kid I got Marty Robbins' album 'Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs' and there was 'Strawberry Road.' That song is sort of a touchstone for my whole musical experience."
A strong element of that classic balladry remains in Lund's songs.
"I'm a songwriting snob," he says. "I often hear people's records and think, 'You should've spent more time writing these songs!'"
And he's no fan of modern commercial country music.
"You can kind of smell the focus group on the new stuff, right?"
"They're selling fewer and fewer records. I think in the future instead of there being 50 megastars, there's going to be thousands of successful unique artists who have their own niche. Maybe pop will be different, but in our kind of music, people are buying less (expletive), because they have so many choices."
Lund says he's most proud of the diversity of his audience, which runs from cowboys to punks.
He's also proud of a current museum exhibit "No Roads Here: Corb Lund's Alberta" on display at the Glenbow Museum in Calgary, Alberta. "No Roads Here" is also the name of one of Lund's popular songs that depicts his home turf. The exhibit incorporates nine of Lund's songs as launching pads for historical artifacts and their history.
"There's ranching, rodeo, oil field stuff, gambling, wildlife conservation, medicine and lots of family stuff," says Lund. "My family's been there a very long time."
Corb Lund & the Hurtin' Albertans
With: Mike McGill
When: 10 p.m. Friday
Where: Barley's Taproom & Pizzeria, 200 E. Jackson Ave.
© 2013, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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