Why Corb Lund’s Cabin Fever Should Win the 2013 Polaris Music Prize

2373Since I gave up the newspaper column last year, I haven’t had too many opportunities for ‘high’ (or, even low) profile writing gigs, but the folks at the Polaris Music Prize gave me the assignment of writing a treatise on why I believe Corb Lund’s Cabin Fever should not only make the Short List (to be announced on July 16), but why it should take the title of the year’s best Canadian album. My piece was posted this AM, and is available to view on the Polaris website HERE.

Several other writers have also posted their defence of other albums on the website, but theirs’ don’t matter- Corb should win. Of the albums on the Long List, by quite a distance it is my favourite. Now that I think of it, I don’t believe I shared my ‘short list’ ballot, so here it is: #1 Corb, #2 Old Man Luedecke #3 Lee Harvey Osmond #4 Hayden #5 Lindi Ortega…at least, that is how the note on my desk reads…I may have been inebriated if that is what I submitted. No Kobo Town? Hmm.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald      The Polaris link is dead, so…pasted here:

Why Corb Lund’s Cabin Fever should win the 2013 Polaris Music Prize…in five-six-hundred words or less…

In 2012, just when he seemed to peak with the previous  Losin’ Lately  Gambler, Corb Lund surprised by emerging from a self-imposed exile to  deliver the most complete, sharply detailed album of his almost 20 years of making acerbic, populist rural-inspired country music. That Cabin Fever should hit the top of the Canadian charts was more fluke than design.

To a significant portion of the population, Corb Lund is perceived as little more than a good ol’ boy, singing songs- alternately mildly humourous novelty tunes balanced by straw bale sentimentality- about trucks, horses, and all breed of western situations. He plays poker, likes whiskey, and has a ranching background, providing credibility to prevent instant dismissal as just another pretty boy in jeans and hat.

Often that is where the examination ends.

Having isolated himself for much of a winter, licking a wounded heart, Lund emerged with a collection of songs bound by significant strength.  Inspired by contemporary mentors and influences including Ian Tyson, Tom Russell, and a couple generations of triple-named Texas troubadours, Lund’s song writing this time out, a blend of cowboy wisdom and rural  images ringing true within a set of narratives unified by the theme that  guys just  have to keep trying to survive- whether through guile (“Bible on the Dash”), guilt (“September”), doomsday preparedness (“Gettin’ Down On the Mountain,”) or bravado (“Pour ’em Kinda Strong”)- is acute, nuanced, and genuine. He tosses off lyrical descriptors (“with the pale white, rockabilly tan” from “The Gothest Girl I Can”) within even his most frivolous numbers with Guy Clark assurance.

In relationships, at work, and while engaged in recreation, Lund is a languid, dusty-shirted romantic. He wears his heart not only on his sleeve, but in the ass pocket of his jeans: no wonder then that it requires the resuscitation that only a hard-scrabble song provides.

While Cabin Fever is introspective, Lund doesn’t let things get staid or remain too serious, twining  frivolity with sharp barbs of reality. On its surface, “Cows Around” is a playful excuse for Lund to recite some twenty cattle breeds and low like a steer at dusk. Dig deeper, and one catches the reality behind the self-deprecation: “What else you gonna spend that extra money on? he asks. “What else could cause such tension between a man and his wife?” along with acceptance of the force of industry that carries politicians within its pockets:  “You mighta had to let them dig for oil and gas,” before “What else will make sure you leave nothin’ for your kids?”

Cabin Fever is a band album. Lund’s Hurtin’ Albertans deliver the accompaniment and support that allows the album to breath and live. The deep end is heavy, with Kurt Ciesla providing ample evidence that an electric bass has nothing on a bull fiddle. Brady Valgardson’s drumming is unobtrusive, while Grant Siemens, man of all things stringed and pedaled, once again proves indispensible as collaborator.

Finally, Lund didn’t only create Cabin Fever, he and his compadres also recorded a stripped down-acoustic version of the album that is the equal of the more refined official release.

Polaris “recognizes and markets albums of the highest artistic integrity, without regard to musical genre, professional affiliation, or sales history.” The Polaris Jury done well to recognize a cross-section of Canadian musical talent: it is high time now to venture out of the city, smell the aromas of the pasture, and realize that western Canadian country music deserves acknowledgement. Cabin Fever is the album that deserves that credit in 2013.

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