COLTER WALL - COLTER WALL
LCM ALBUM OF THE WEEK
- Release Date: 12th May, 2017
- Genre: Folk, Country, Country-Soul
- Location: Kentucky, U.S.A.
- Record Label: Young Mary's Record Co./Thirty Tigers
- Tracks: 11
- Review By: Gary Smith
Although only 22 years Canadian singer-songwriter Colter Wall has the kind of very mature vocal which sounds like it has seen life, all gruff, weathered and world-weary. His rich baritone is resonate, raw and full of feeling. Colter's style and his intense & vivid songwriting has a retro feel, harking back to the classic days of Folk and Country. It is sparse and stripped with Folk and Bluegrass style guitar and banjo picking, steady kick-drum stomping and visually provoking, story telling lyrics.
Colter draws influence and inspiration from legends of the past such as Hank Williams, Robert Johnson, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Woody Guthrie, Townes Van Zandt and The Band, as well as more modern Americana pioneers including Shovels and Rope, Jack White, Ray Lamontagne and Shakey Graves.
Despite only recently beginning his musical career, Colter Wall has been seen in the company of Saskatchewan's bluegrass trail-blazers 'The Dead South'. He released an EP 'Imaginary Appalachian' in the summer of 2015 from which 'Sleeping On The Blacktop' ended up in the movie 'Hell or High Water' in 2016. From dive bars to fundraiser galas, Colter Wall has a history of leaving audiences in shock at the maturity of his voice as well as his songwriting. Currently settled in Kentucky, Colter released his debut 11 track album produced by Dave Cobb in May, the go-to guy for breakthrough acts like Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, and Chris Stapleton. But Cobb takes a decidedly unmodern approach, letting Wall’s songs speak for themselves. The albums features all his own compositions except 'Snake Mountain Blues' which is a Townes Van Zandt cover and the traditional 'Fraulin'.
Colter considers the album and its spare production more in line with folk. "I think it's a folk record and I call myself a folksinger, so it should be stripped down and not a lot of production," he says. "The mission statement going in was less is more. This is a record about stories and about songwriting."
The album begins with the reflective 'Thirteen Silver Dollars'. Colter's story telling style songwriting is very rich, this could easily be a Johnny Cash classic. It starts with him lying sleeping in the snowy streets of Saskatchewan, before a cop comes to take him away. Colter never explains how he got there (“For now we’ll say I had no place to go,”) or what happens next. Instead, he closes with a rousing repetition of the chorus, proudly naming the only few possessions he owns. It’s a fitting introduction to an album built from small details, but conjuring up a bigger picture with what’s left out. You are joining Colter on a journey and there is plenty of space for some imagination on behalf of the listener.
Next up is the slow, melancholy and reflective tale of lost love the finger-picked 'Codeine Dream' with wonderful accented pedal steel. 'I don't think of you.....to get by. Every day it seems, my whole damn life is a codeine dream......and I don't dream of you anymore!'
In 'Me & Big Dave' Colter discusses his life as an outsider, while conceding to the dangers of a life spent alone. “This whole world’s full of ghosts,” he concludes, “I believe that most people can’t see.” It’s one of the album’s most powerful lyrics, sold with a heart and frightening conviction.
One of the highlights of the album is "Motorcycle," inspired by Arlo Guthrie's own "Motorcycle Song." One verse laments the state of country music, with Colter singing about buying a bottle of cheap Thunderbird wine and pouring it out on Music Row, as one would on a grave. But Wall stops short at claiming country music is dead. "I wouldn't say country music is dead because I know there are so many friends of mine, and people I've never met, making country music and doing it right," he says. "You just have to dig to find them. I don't know how much a lot of the people that are a part of the Music Row thing and the industry of it all are helping those people to be recognized, and it's frustrating. And that's where that line comes from. The Thunderbird on Music Row thing is a libation reference about what once was and is no longer."
'Kate McCannon' is told through one of folk music’s oldest themes, the dual love song/murder ballad. The protagonist finds himself in prison looking through the bars and reflecting on past events. A crime of passion follows. He offers little time for reflection, fading out shortly after the cathartic and inevitable round of gunfire in the song’s ending. “I ain’t in the business of making excuses”
Next up is the very interesting country radio broadcast 'W.B.'s Talkin''. I'll leave you to explore it for yourself. This is quickly followed by a cover of Townes Van Zandt's 'Snake Mountain Blues' first released on his 1969 album 'My Mother The Mountain'. Colter says that Townes is one of his inspirations and this cover is given the reverent treatment is deserves. Another rich story telling narrative runs through it's DNA and it fits perfectly on the album.
In 'You Look To Yours' Colter offers the album’s most useful, sage (and timely) bit of advice: “Go about your earthly mission,” he sings, “Don’t trust no politicians.” A perfect slice of honky tonk life.
Probably my favourite titled song on the album is the reflective travelling song 'Transcendent Rambin' Railroad Blues'. 'Don't look for me in glory, don't look for me below. Because I'll be riding on that freight where the souls of ramblers go.'
The country song 'Fraulein' originally was a 1957 single written by Lawton Williams and sung by Bobby Helms. It was also covered by Townes Van Zandt and interesting Jerry Lee Lewis in 1969. It gets the full treatment by Colter. The track also features Sturgill Simpson's protege Tyler Childers on vocals.
The album fittingly closes with the almost six minute 'Bald Butte', a tale of death and revenge, taking the listener on a journey during the American Civil War. 'Bald Butte, Bald Butte so lofty and so high, carry me to Bald Butte where the plains wraps round the sky.....you can dig a hole on Bald Butte when I die'
Colter Wall has received overwhelming acclaim—Steve Earle declares, “Colter Wall is bar-none the best young singer-songwriter I’ve seen in twenty years,” while Rick Rubin, who recently signed Colter to his American Songs publishing company, proclaims, “Colter sings and writes songs in ways seemingly lost in time. There is an agelessness about him so unusual in someone so young.”