There was a time when the chances of seeing Canuck country star Paul Brandt without his hallmark black Stetson were better than hearing alt-twangers on mainstream country radio, but the Corb Lund Band are changing that.Led by ranch-bred southern Albertan Corby Lund -- who spent the past decade rocking the Prairies with the Smalls -- the laconic strummer's namesake outfit have not only broken into the lucrative rodeo gig circuit, but the title track of their polished new Five Dollar Bill (Stony Plain) disc is among the top five requested songs on Red Deer's country powerhouse, CKGY.
Getting a few daytime spins on conservative country radio might not be reason enough to clear the mantlepiece for a CCMA Award haul, but it's a significant breakthrough for Lund and for fellow "alternative" country artists who've been ignored by the Canadian country music establishment.
"What makes the music I do sound different from that of most artists who get called "alt-country' is that the rock thing was the departure for me," explains Lund from a cellphone, "not the other way around.
"I grew up with country music. My family have been ranch and rodeo folks for generations, so from the time I was born all I ever heard was Marty Robbins, Johnny Horton, Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings."
Listening to Five Dollar Bill, you'll find it readily apparent that Lund's early immersion in traditional country helped define his narrative approach to songwriting. Yet it's the production savvy of Dead Reckoners drumming dynamo Harry Stinson that turned the album into a chart contender.
The mature compositions and snappy arrangements make 2000's Unforgiving Mistress disc sound like a charming home demo.
"Harry is much more than just a great drummer. Besides serving as the musical director of a bunch of TNN shows, he's an A-list Nashville session backing vocalist and a songwriter, too.
"Having a producer whose artistic taste I could trust was a big asset. If something wasn't working out, Harry would say something like, "Let's double the chorus and move the guitar solo to the end,' and he was usually right on the money.
"He also created a really relaxed atmosphere in the studio that comes through on the recording."
Certainly the earthy warmth and easygoing swing of Five Dollar Bill contribute to the disc's immediate appeal, but it's Lund's offbeat story songs, drawing on familiar western themes and stacked with references to horses, gambling and the great outdoors, that are hitting home with the cattle-friendly crowd in Alberta.
"I've been including references to western life in my songs for years, but there's definitely much more of that on Five Dollar Bill. It's kinda weird, because I wrote the bulk of it while I was living in Austin last winter.
"I remember these friends of mine asking if all my new songs were going to be about Texas," chuckles Lund. "But everyone there was so into the whole Texas thing that it got me thinking more about where I was from and what made my experiences in Alberta unique.
"It's funny how sometimes leaving a place can bring you closer to it."email@example.com
Corb LunD Band, opening for radiogram at the Rivoli (332 Queen West), tonight (Thursday, October 31). $6. 416-596-1908.