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An Albertan rides to the rescue

Country singer Corb Lund's out to save the cavalry with his new concept album

PETER SHAWN TAYLOR February 25 2008
THE BACK PAGES

An Albertan rides to the rescue

Country singer Corb Lund's out to save the cavalry with his new concept album

PETER SHAWN TAYLOR February 25 2008

An Albertan rides to the rescue

music

Country singer Corb Lund's out to save the cavalry with his new concept album

PETER SHAWN TAYLOR

There was a time, and it seems a rather long time ago now, that the arrival of the cavalry was a good thing. When the wagon train was surrounded and things were at their grimmest, a bugle from the hills could always guarantee a happy ending. The settlers were safe. The cavalry had arrived.

John Wayne’s famous trilogy of cavalry movies from the late 1940s and early 1950s— Fort Apache, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Rio Grande—are steeped in a sense of heroic gallantry, as well as post-Civil War reconciliation. But those themes have long since been eclipsed by a much darker view of the cavalry. In 1990’s Dances with Wolves, Kevin Costner’s character must desert the cavalry to find salvation with the Sioux. Historians no longer see Lt.Col. George Custer of the 7th U.S. Cavalry as a doomed hero, but rather an obsessed lunatic out to slaughter Indians. Can anyone rescue the fallen image of the cavalry? Albertan Corb Lund is going to give it a try.

Lund, a unique voice in Canadian country music with a growing following, is touring North America in support of his intriguing concept album about all things cavalry. Horse Soldier! Horse Soldier! aims to put glory and honour back in the saddle. “There’s always been something about the myth of the horse soldier that’s appealed to me,” says Lund from the road in Springfield, Mo., in January, where his band will play later that day. “The flash of colour, the sense of nobility amidst the chaos of a battle, the honour among officers—whether or not it was ever true, that’s been the traditional image of the cavalry from the British Empire to the opening of the American West.”

His new album grandly surveys the history

of the soldier on horseback: from Genghis Khan to the Civil War to Polish lancers vainly attacking Hitler’s tanks to modern-day special forces on “wily Afghan horses.” Its opening track, I Wanna Be in the Cavalry, is set to a rousing drumbeat tailor-made for recruiting new soldiers and fans alike.

From this initial jingoism, Lund then mixes in the darker side of conflict, covering mutinies and covert ops gone wrong in equal measure, and ending with a subdued reprise of the opener in which the once gung-ho recruit grimly faces the prospect of eating his own horse to survive. It’s a far more ambitious piece of work than Lund—best known to date for his comic Alberta-set The Truck Got Stuck video on CMT—has so far delivered.

In offering up a clear-eyed take on both the honour and the horror of cavalry life, Lund is earning himself appreciation from unexpected sources. “I seem to have a whole new crop of fans from the Civil War re-enactors crowd,” he reports. “In Dallas, I had a guy come up to me in full Confederate regalia. He was whooping and hollering about how I’d mentioned [Confederate cavalry officer] Nathan Bedford Forrest in a song.”

In fact, Lund has found himself fielding calls from volunteer re-enactor units across the continent eager to use I Wanna Be in the Cavalry as their theme song. And not just pretend

soldiers are drawn to his redrawn image of the cavalryman. Pennsylvania’s 2-104th Cavalry 56th Stryker Brigade—the modern armoured horse soldier—will be taking it to Iraq as their squadron song. Lund is happy to oblige all his new American fans. But he continues to pump his songs full of Alberta references, including the 2005 Mountie shootings in Mayerthorpe, when “four horsemen died.”

Lund says he admires the time-honoured story-song conventions of singers like Johnny Horton and Marty Robbins: “I don’t write a lot of straightforward love songs,” he observes. “They always end up being about horses.” Considering he grew up rodeoing in rural Taber, Alta., the product of many generations of ranching stock from Utah and Alberta, his reverential roots style and historical preoccupation seem to make sense. Except for the bit about his musical past.

For 11 years Lund was a long-haired, headbobbing bassist in an underground Edmonton-based metal/punk band called the Smalls. It was only after their breakup in 2001 that he pursued a country career full-time. “It’s not as different as you might think,” he shrugs of his conversion from screams to twangs. “It’s like painting in oils versus doing pencil sketches. The mood and techniques are slightly different, but that’s about it.” Lund figures it was his punk phase that was the intermission. “I grew up pretty western,” he says. “We played guns and listened to country music. So now I’m just writing about my background.” M