"The first hour was a bit overwhelming, because they've got all the pictures on the wall and there's a big X where Elvis stood," says Canadian country star Corb Lund of making a Memphis pilgrimage to record at the city's fabled Sun Studio.
The intimidating trip wasn't even Lund's idea. "The decision was kind of a backwards process," he admits. "It came about because CMT in Canada wanted to do a TV special of a band recording live at Sun, and we're one of the more organic live bands, so they asked us."
Initially, Lund didn't even expect the Southern adventure to turn into an album. "We did this TV special," he recounts, "and then they aired it and it turned out so well that people kept asking about the audio, so we decided to release it as a CD." [The deluxe version includes a DVD of the TV program.] Any initial awkwardness aside, the Sun sessions that begat Counterfeit Blues (July 1st, New West), Lund's eighth album, dovetailed perfectly with the singer-songwriter's love of spontaneity. "It's just one room," he explains, "there's no isolation of instruments. We didn't do any overdubs — all the vocals are live. It's more raw and dirty and organic. I'm gravitating to that kind of a sound more and more."
In his native Canada, Lund is a hot country commodity. He plays arenas, has a Juno Award (the Canadian equivalent to the Grammy) and two gold albums, and has inspired a tribute band. But stateside success is an uphill climb. "I've completely given up on trying to get any kind of [U.S.] radio play," he says. "We're too weird." The Canuck country sound Lund serves up with his band — wryly dubbed the Hurtin' Albertans — has flecks of folk, rockabilly, and blues, achieving an organic feel that grounds the songwriter's frequently sardonic lyrics. A deal with New West Records brought his last two albums to U.S. ears, but Counterfeit Blues seems better situated to spread Lund's name beyond his homeland. Not only is it rich in Memphis-soaked atmosphere, it's sort of a secret greatest hits. "We picked songs from our older records that we'd been playing for years, because we know them like the back of our hands," he says. "There's a a lot of people in America who've only become aware of us through our last record or two. So for them, I suspect this will be like a record of new songs."
Lund's got some famous fans in the U.S., like Miranda Lambert, who invited him to open for her and hubby Blake Shelton. "That was really cool," says Lund, "she took us out and had us open her shows and it turned out she knew all our songs. I respect her a lot." The Albertan has earned the admiration of other artists in Lambert's home territory, as well. "We've kind of been adopted into the Texas scene," Lund relates, "and by some of the Oklahoma bands, like the Red Dirt scene, they call it. We've got some really good friends down there."
Part of Lund's appeal to Westerners might be the prevalence of cowboy themes on his records (Counterfeit Blues has its share, like "Buckin' Horse Rider") and the fact that he comes by that orientation honestly. "My family background is all cowboys and ranchers," he reveals. " I used to chase cattle after school every day. That's a language that translates all the way down the Rockies. So one contingent of our audience in America, especially in the West, is American cowboy guys, because they pick up on the lyrical stuff and they recognize it."
But the new album — like the rest of Lund's catalog — is rich with local color. "If you're Canadian," he says, "there's a flood of American culture that comes to us. We're happy with that, but it takes an extra leap of faith to put it out there and sing about yourself when you come from Canada."
But for all his cowboy cred, Lund first learned his licks as a young metalhead, with his pre-Albertans band The Smalls. "When I was 15 years old I heard Black Sabbath and all that stuff," he remembers. "All the cowboy stuff seemed kinda normal because that's what my parents were into, so to me when I heard hard rock it was a whole new, exotic world for me. I actually learned to play music playing electric guitar, playing heavy riffs. After years of that I realized I could pick up a guitar and play those old cowboy songs, and I started writing that stuff. I think doing 10 years in a weirdo underground metal band where you're trying to be as weird as you can, that had an effect on my writing approach."
In that context, it's easy to understand Lund's attraction to the rough-and-ready sound of Counterfeit Blues, on which his ultimate opinion is, " I think it's pretty raw and I'm really happy with that."