Corb Lund is a Canadian artist, whose gritty blend of country, blues, folk, jazz and more made him a surprise success on the musically conservative national country landscape. After rising to the top of the Canadian scene, Lund set his sights south of the border to the notoriously tough American roots music scene. He released his debut in 1995, while still a part of the underground punk/metal group The Smalls of Edmonton. But it wasn't until late 2009 when he released "Losin' Lately Gambler" on New West Records that he started to make progress on the U.S. scene.
With his third release for New West, Lund decided to offer what is essentially an overview of songs from his two most popular releases in Canada, "Five Dollar Bill" and "Hair in My Eyes Like a Highland Steer." Instead of simply tossing the old recordings on a compilation, he decided to mix things up by rerecording them in a new way. The group headed south to Memphis to Sun Studios and recorded 12 songs in 2 days.
The reworking was a wise decision as he not only introduces a wider American audience to his older material, but it also appeals to long time northern fans because the new versions are different enough to warrant purchase.
Those familiar with Sun Studios will not be surprised to find that "Counterfeit Blues" is a raw recording with a live feel that showcases the extremely talented musicians that make up his band, the Hurtin' Albertans. The title track kicks off the album with a fuzzed out blues stomp and Lund's talking blues vocal stylings. Guitar virtuoso Grant Siemens shines throughout with his commanding presence on electric and slide guitar. The original version of "Good Copenhagen" was reminiscent of a late '70s Waylon Jennings track, but the Sun version strips it back to minimal production, with a howling guitar in the background. The guys switch things up with "Big Butch Bass Bull Fiddle," a jazzy track that focuses on the talented Kurt Ciesla and his standup bass. This track flourishes with the bare bones studio recording. The group tackles western swing ("Little Foothills Heaven"), rodeo songs ("Buckin' Horse Rider") and upbeat rockers ("Hurtin' Albertan"), switching gears smoothly.
The album features a good sampling of Lund's style, moving between genres and equally touching on humor and serious topics. Brady Valgardson keeps everyone in line with his tight drumming, while Lund sings about working in the oil patch, cattle ranching in the beautiful Rocky Mountains and getting pickup trucks stuck in muddy farmer's fields. For the majority of the album, the tempo is fast, channeling the ghosts of the rockabilly legends who recorded at Sun. Lund closes with a faster paced version of his haunting lament "Truth Comes Out," which again puts Siemens' guitar in focus with its melancholic wailing backing up Lund's vocals.
The DVD documentary is an interesting watch, but the method of recording lends itself to being played on vinyl for those who still have a record player kicking around.
"Counterfeit Blues" is a great gift for long time fans of Corb Lund and the Hurtin' Albertans. The raw sound perfectly encapsulates the mythic aura of Sun Studios. There are audible warts, the odd squeak in the background or off key moment, but it only serves to add to the charm.