The Road He Rode in On: Veteran Alberta country artist Corb Lund specializes in range delivery

If you’re veteran Alberta songwriter Corb Lund, road or rode, are, in some ways, your choices. Range-raised Lund may be on the road performing, or writing songs in Nashville, or, even, a few years ago, taking an acting course in New York. Heck, when this pandemic eases, he’ll perform at the revered Grand Ole Opry. That kind road is mighty fine.

But the keeper of cowboy truths — some romantic, like his 2009 track This is My Prairie, but some earthier, like 2005’s Trouble in the Country — relishes the other kind of rode, where your view exists between equine ears, like a few months ago when he rode and roped at a Saskatchewan branding. Even his grandfathers contributed to Lund’s “rode.” Each was featured in Western Horseman — the Rolling Stone of horses — his dad’s father for being a rodeo star who raised Arabians, his mom’s dad for saving a man accidentally shot in the leg on a wild horse roundup in Alberta’s southern foothills.

All this fuels Lund’s skill at writing gritty songs revealing mundane moments about the less picturesque side of the cowboying, from cattle dying in spite of vet care to trucks stuck in greasy prairie mud to, on his recently released album, Agricultural Tragic, an old cowgirl having to put down her last two ribby, lame and beloved horses to spare them from winter’s long, unwelcome caress.

The song, She’s Never Not Had Horses, and the supporting video comprised of vintage photos and video clips of Lund’s mom and his aunt, is a novel inked within a few defining moments. Speaking with Lund from his Alberta home, he agrees. “Yeah I think (She’s Never Not Had Horses) is one of the (listeners’) favourites. Economy of words is important. You start with more and you sort of pour acid on it until you get it whittled down to be as economical as possible.”

The image of a woman nearing 80, based on Lund’s mother while he stood with her waiting for the vet to euthanize the final two of a lifetime of horses, conjures images of a ranch haunted by vacant corrals. Especially because his mom was the first ever Calgary Stampede barrel racing champion, in 1959, on a borrowed horse, no less, while also taking third place on her own horse. She won again in 1960.

In conversation, you learn that those elusive flying lead changes every few steps in the video were just, well, there. As Lund says, “I talked to her about that and she says she’s never consciously done that; she thinks athletic horses just do it on their own.” Shucks. People pay thousands of dollars in training to make that happen. How could a listener not worry about how the woman who blessed the world with Lund and his talent is doing now?

“She’s alright. I’m going to take her for a ride this summer, but she’s too old to be looking after horses now. That was a true story, from probably two or three years ago. I’ve wanted to write a song about mom for a long time but I’ve never had the right angle. I’ve written about dad, my grandpas, my uncles. The vet was on his way.  It was a sad day, obviously, when she commented she’d never not had horses. When I heard that phrase I thought, ‘Oh, there’s a song.’ ”

And Lund, too, has had horses from the get-go, his first being a sorrel with “a big, ugly Roman nose” named Rooster. “He was a little guy, pretty cowy. I used to ride him after school. He was a little pig to catch, too. You know that song She Won’t Come to Me? That’s about him; I made it a mare in the song. He was great once you got him, but he was diabolical to catch.”

Like the one about his mom, songs which capture the listener’s breath, heart and moment are a trademark of Lund’s career. Indeed, listening to his catalogue from the outlaw bravado of Five Dollar Bill to the pain-dusted wisdom of Alberta Says Hello and then the 324-second legacy-crumbling novella that is S Lazy H, it’s easy to be lost for image-drenched, melodic hours. That Agricultural Tragic follows that trajectory is astounding.

Lund considers this. “There’s a lot energy in it. I know it’s our ninth or tenth studio record; after that many records it’s hard. I’m sure it’s the same for a painter after he’s painted a thousand paintings — it’s hard to find new ways of keeping it fresh, you know? My last record (Things That Can’t Be Undone) was 2015, and I went for a couple of years I was kind of bored, couldn’t find inspirations, a new angle. Then, for whatever reason, I got my second wind.”

The second wind lifts, judging from fan and media response. It’s a challenge to find a bad review of Lund’s work. In this case, American Songwriter and No Depression have given glowing reviews. “They’re sort of prestigious magazines in our world, and I guess my audience liked it, too, so I guess it’s a winner.  I’m not really in a position to get a lot of bad press because if people don’t like my stuff, they probably just won’t write about it.”

One more aspect of Lund’s life feeds his skillful use of ideas and language. A recent online concert revealed shelves of books behind the songwriter in his home, reminiscent of his university days. His recent reading includes a history of evolution called Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind, and the Mutiny on the Bounty trilogy. As well, he devours the work of playwright David Mamet. Hence the acting course.

“I’d really like to try live theatre – it seems really fun. It’s a second cousin to what I do.”

(Photo courtesy Noah Fallis.)

Corb Lund performs Sept. 10, 11 and 13 at Wildhorse Live. Tickets at

 Mary-Lynn Wardle is a Bragg Creek writer.