Friday, March 1, 2024

The View On Pop Culture: Corb Lund Band, Steve Wynn & The Miracle 3, Gordon Lightfoot Tribute (2003)

Corb Lund Band's Five Dollar Bill

There are a lot of imitation cowboys shuffling down the streets of Nashville’s “Music Row” these days, with snakeskin boots, tight jeans and hats blocked just right. It’s a safe bet that none of them have even a small portion of the soul, guts and, most importantly, the understanding of country & western musical tradition that Canada’s Corb Lund shows with Five Dollar Bill (Stony Plain Records). The third release from the Corb Lund Band, which includes moonlighting members of the Smalls and Nickelback, this one came out last year but as it just now crossed your columnist’s desk and demanded my attention, we’re going to let it swing…
The opening title cut of Five Dollar Bill rocks harder than the Broken Spoke Bar on Saturday night, noted pedal steel maestro Dan Dugmore adding his twangy flourishes to this spry tail of (dis)honor among thieves and whiskey running between Canada and the United States. The rest of the album offers an inspired blend of countrified rock, blues, and swinging honky-tonk with lyrics that are smarter and more entertaining that anything the scribes in the Music City are scribbling these days. “Apocalyptic Modified Blues” mixes Biblical and mythological imagery with a talking blues undercurrent in creating a story of woe and despair. “Time To Switch To Whiskey” offers a sure cure for what ails you while “Roughest Neck Around” is a larger-than-life tale about a modern-day John Henry. As we say down here in the lower 48, Five Dollar Bill offers up real poop-punting cheap thrills, Corb and his Canadian cohorts serving up country music more authentic than anything you’ll find coming out of Nashville.

Steve Wynn's Static Transmission
Steve Wynn
is one of those greatly underrated artists that critics love, a songwriter and performer of unusual depth and atypical perspective. As founder of ‘80s cult band Dream Syndicate, Wynn spearheaded LA’s “Paisley Underground” movement with feedback-soaked, guitar-driven rock ‘n’ roll that was easily a decade ahead of its time. Wynn’s lengthy solo career has had its ups and downs since his first album in 1990, tho’ it’s been mostly up as of late. Static Transmissions (DBK Works), credited to Steve Wynn & the Miracle 3, represents another solid effort of what could be called, for lack of a better term, “psychedelic folk music.”
The tunes on Static Transmissions feature Wynn’s imaginative songwriting and wan vocals, blending folk sensibilities with ‘60s rock influences and ‘80s punk attitude. “Candy Machine” is a fuzz-drenched story-song with beautifully chiming guitars and muddy sound complimented by a melodic hook; the song belongs on modern rock radio, where it would force many bland rock wannabes back to their day jobs. A percussive guitar riff transforms into a slinky, psychedelic wall of sound on “Amphetamine,” a rocking road song with explosive six-string work and unrelenting energy. The hyperbolic instrumentation that introduces “One Less Shining Star” leads into a shimmering dirge of sound and obscured vocals while “Hollywood” cuts like Bob Dylan, or maybe Dan Bern, providing a gutsy look at California’s famed city of dreams. Truth be told, there’s not a bad song to be heard on Static Transmission, Steve Wynn & the Miracle 3 delivering one of the year’s best, if sadly obscure, rock albums.

During a recent visit to the Reverend’s hometown, my old buddy John W. was extolling the virtues of legendary Canadian singer/songwriter Gordon Lightfoot. Anybody who listened to the radio at all during the ‘70s and ‘80s would have had to be deaf not to recognize Lightfoot’s trademark baritone and literate songwriting. Beyond the hits – larger than life tunes like “Sundown” and “If You Could Read My Mind” – I have to admit that I didn’t know much about one of Canada’s favorite sons. After our conversation, what should cross my desk but a copy of Beautiful: A Tribute To Gordon Lightfoot (Northern Blues Music). Usually tribute albums are a spotty proposition, and it seems that Northern Blues has been releasing more compilation discs than real albums as of late, but after a few spins of Beautiful, I have to admit that they got this one right.

Beautiful does a wonderful job of honoring Lightfoot’s considerable songbook. Featuring mostly (heck, maybe exclusively – what do I know?) Canadian artists, Beautiful offers up talents like Bruce Cockburn, Jesse Winchester, Maria Muldaur, and the Cowboy Junkies. As is usual with affairs of this type, some performances work better than others do, and it’s not any different here. Jesse Winchester turns in a fiery reading of “Sundown,” sounding like dusk on the Bayou, while Cockburn’s somber take on “Ribbon of Darkness” stands in stark counterpoint to Marty Robbins’ 1965 hit with the song. James Keelaghan frames Lightfoot’s classic “Canadian Railroad Trilogy” perfectly, evoking images of the wild lands tamed by the iron rail while the Tragically Hip bring appropriate power and passion to the social commentary of “Black Day In July.”

For this writer’s money, tho’, it is Maria Muldaur’s haunting reading of “That Same Old Obsession” that defines Beautiful, the song showcasing both Muldaur’s immense talents as a vocalist and Lightfoot’s ability as a timeless songwriter. Terry Tufts, Blue Rodeo and Ron Sexsmith all deliver solid performances of lesser-known Lightfoot gems while Aengus Finnan’s original song “Lightfoot” is an impressive tribute to the artist and a fitting way to close the album. Beautiful is a fine collection of songs and an inspired tribute to the musical treasure that is Gordon Lightfoot and well worth finding a copy! (View From The Hill, 2003)

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