The Corb Lund Band,
Five Dollar Bill
(Stony Plain, 2002)

What do you get when you combine razor-sharp songwriting, back-pocket-tight playing, roadhouse energy and a bootful of grit from western Canada? You get Five Dollar Bill by the Corb Lund Band.

Five Dollar Bill kicks off like a brisk Alberta clipper with the CD's namesake -- a bouncy, cleverly-written song about running whiskey to the U.S. during prohibition. You're hooked by the first line. By the time the band kicks in, you're dancing. There is a wonderful mix of soulful ballads ("Native Grasses"), bar anthems ("Time to Switch to Whiskey") and blue-collar country ("Roughest Neck Around").

I really enjoyed the variety on this CD. "Five Dollar Bill" goes right into a folky blues number, "Expectation and the Blues," which is followed by a beautiful ballad called "Short Native Grasses." Rocking blues is juxtaposed against prairie love songs. Even after several listenings, I'm still impressed by the breadth of song styles and the infectious energy of this recording.

This CD shines for a lot of reasons: a squeaky tight rhythm section (it reminded me of Creedence Clearwater Revival), sharp but not overwhelming lead picking, discriminating and understated use of steel guitars and fiddles, and a truly tasty sound mix. But the heart of this CD and the wellspring of the experience is Corb Lund.

Corb has a great country singing voice: a hint of weariness, a hint of gravel, but also clear and heartfelt. There's no fake Nashville accent, nothing overdone; Corb trusts the power of the lyric and doesn't kill it by coming on too heavy. This is none too surprising considering all the songs were written by Corb.

The songwriting on this CD is exemplary. I found myself hearing all sorts of influences, from old-time hill music, classic country, coffee-house folk, straight-up rock 'n' roll and healthy measures of the blues. They lyrics are concise, full of unexpected twists and turns of phrase, and rich with vivid images and real emotion. ("The prairies of Alberta, they ain't never hearda/The things that are keepin' you down/And the short native grasses don't care that the ashes/Of your dreams match their dry shade of brown.") The music matches the lyrics like a glove fits a hand. The tunes are fresh and lively, emotional without being mawkish or clichˇ, and downright catchy as hell. I still can't stop singing the chorus to "Five Dollar Bill."

Five Dollar Bill is a refreshing recording in a genre dominated by the Nashville sound, Gucci cowboy boots and stadium acts. The band is from rural Canada, some of them were rodeo cowboys (the picture on the cover is Corb on a bull), and their music does not stray far from their roots. The Corb Lund Band is the reason why people like country music despite what has been done to it by multi-million dollar record contracts.

- Rambles
written by Fred Keller
published 16 November 2002