featuring the very best of americana, alt.country and roots music
May 6, 2017
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust
I began to look forward to Colter Wall’s debut full-length upon hearing his contribution to the soundtrack for last year’s Hell or High Water movie. Poking around a bit further, I came across online praise from blocky wrestler Brock Lesnar and one-time celebrity Dog the Bounty Hunter, and found that Colter’s dad is Premier of the Saskatchewan province. In a desperate attempt to rescue my first impression, I turned to his 2015 Imaginary Appalachia EP. While the sound was quite a bit more primitive than the stuff I’d heard from the forthcoming record, the writing was there. And so was the voice.
The Voice. A syrupy baritone drawl, something you might hear from a long-forgotten Delta bluesman, or perhaps from a hard living 1970s outlaw who defeated the odds to survive middle age. But not something you’d expect to exit the lungs of a 21-year old Canadian who's still working on his first full beard. Thanks to smokes and who knows what else, Colter Wall’s voice is a thing of rough beauty, perfectly hewn for the harrowing tales he tells on his self-titled record.
Rasslers aside, the young man has also garnered high praise from Steve Earle, who called him “bar-none the best singer-songwriter I’ve seen in twenty years”. Far as I know, that marks the strongest statement he’s made about another writer since a young Earle threatened to stand on Dylan’s coffee table to sing the praises of Townes Van Zandt. Wall is an eloquent songsmith, earning his place in a celebrated line of folk and country legends like Hank and Cash and Prine and, yes, Townes (whose “Snake Mountain Blues” he tackles admirably here).
“Transcendent Ramblin’ Railroad Blues” might just as well have come from the pen of TVZ. Fingerpicked acoustic, unintrusive piano chording and pedal steel set the scene for a rambler’s mournful eulogy. Such restraint can be ironically bold on the part of any artist, and show great trust in the magic of Wall’s simple delivery. He doesn’t reinvent the vernacular or tell a story we’ve not heard before. But like the best western movies and novels, he works refreshing wonders with familiar pieces. It brings to mind a classic like Prine’s “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness”.
“Thirteen Silver Dollars” is another quiet stunner, this one built on nothing more than an acoustic and the steady stomp of Wall's boot. Well I got my health / My John B Stetson / Got a bottle full of baby's bluebird wine / And I left my stash / Somewhere down in Preston / Along with thirteen silver dollars and my mind. “Codeine Dream” strikes more of a Kristofferson vibe, a dark dead end ballad that's also starkly beautiful in its despair. And in each of these tunes, Colter Wall's delivery strikes a chord that is true and resonant to the core. Perhaps these aren't the kind of songs you can sing with a pretty voice ...
Wall has cited Arlo Guthrie as his inspiration for the relatively upbeat “Motorcycle”: Well I figure I'll buy me a motorcycle / Wrap her pretty little frame around a telephone pole / Ride her off the mountain like ol' Arlo / Figure I'll buy me a motorcycle. Again, nothing fancy. Nothing more or less than the kind of country-folk music that speaks of our days and our nightmares. But herein lies Wall's promise. His songs sound like they could've been delivered ages ago by Arlo himself.
I believe I’ve stated previously on these pages that producer Dave Cobb wields a definite stamp on his projects. To his immense credit, Cobb simply brings Colter Wall forward on these arrangements, freeing his voice from the muddy mess of his debut EP. The resulting tracks are clean but refreshingly sparse, seemingly unconcerned with current trends and fashions. The uncrowded environs leave Wall free to carve his way into your psyche. Colter Wall is the indelible crease on a favorite pair of leather boots. It is the dust on the dash of a trusted old pickup, and the sigh of a tired dog giving into gravity. More directly, we’ve got an artist here who promises to make a difference in the world of folk and country music.
- Iron & Wine, "Sodom South Georgia" Our Endless Numbered Days (Sub Pop, 04)
- Harmed Brothers, "Adopt a Highway" Harmed Brothers (Fluff & Gravy, 17)
- Sarah Shook & the Disarmers, "Sidelong" Sidelong (Bloodshot, 17)
- Leeroy Stagger, "Crooked Old World" Love Versus (True North, 17)
^ Colter Wall, "Transcendent Ramblin' Railroad Blues" Colter Wall (Young Mary's, 17)
- Steve Earle, "Goodbye" Train a Comin' (Warner, 95)
- Steve Earle, "Lookin' For a Woman" So You Wannabe An Outlaw (Warner, 17) D
- Lillie Mae, "Honky Tonks & Taverns" Forever and Then Some (Third Man, 17)
- John Moreland, "Sallisaw Blue" Big Bad Luv (4AD, 17)
- William Matheny, "Funny Papers" Strange Constellations (Misra, 17)
- Trampled by Turtles, "Are You Behind the Shining Star" Wild Animals (Banjodad, 14)
- Andrew Combs, "Rose Colored Blues" Canyons of My Mind (New West, 17)
- the Weeks, "Hands on the Radio" Easy (Lightning Rod, 17)
- Blackfoot Gypsies, "Promise to Keep" To the Top (Plowboy, 17)
- Bonnevilles, "You're Not Alone" Listen For the Tone (Alive Naturalsound, 17)
- Left Lane Cruiser, "Claw Machine Wizard" Claw Machine Wizard (Alive Naturalsound, 17)
- M Ward, "Flaming Heart" End of Amnesia (MWard, 01)
- Justin Townes Earle, "Graceland" single (New West, 17)
- Los Straitjackets, "Cruel To Be Kind" What's So Funny About Peace Love & Los Straitjackets (Yep Roc, 17)
- Matt Urmy, "I'm Gone" Out of the Ashes (Red Light Library, 17)
- Mic Harrison & High Score, "Vanishing South" Vanishing South (Mic, 17)
- Joseph Huber, "Sons of the Wandering" Suffering Stage (Huber, 17)
- Cory Branan, "Visiting Hours" Adios (Bloodshot, 17)
- Whiskey Gentry, "Following You" Dead Ringer (Pitch-a-Tent, 17)
- K Phillips, "Coalburner" Dirty Wonder (Rock Ridge, 17)
- Jason Isbell, "Cumberland Gap" Nashville Sound (Southeastern, 17)
- Will Johnson, "Ruby Shameless" Hatteras Night a Good Luck Charm (Undertow, 17)
- Chris Stapleton, "Second One to Know" From a Room: Vol. 1 (Mercury, 17)
- Todd Adelman, "Not Sure What Scares Me More" Time Will Tell (Adelman, 17) C, D
- Charlie Worsham, "Take Me Drunk I'm Home" Beginning of Things (Warner, 17)