Armed with a voice like a gravel road in a dry season, Saskatchewan's Colter Wall sounds more like a world-weary troubadour than most actual world-weary troubadours.
At only 21 years old, Wall's instrument may strike some as borrowed — even unearned. And yet, I'll be damned if he doesn't know how to use that impossible voice of his. Throughout his spare, acoustic self-titled debut, Wall spins tales of murder, lost love and working class politics with all the pretension of a wannabe dust bowler and the unfettered confidence of the real deal. (It helps immeasurably that he is aware of his insider/outsider role, and drops the occasional hint. Tellingly, his 2015 EP was called Imaginary Appalachia.)
Since it's produced by Dave Cobb, the man behind the boards for just about every top-shelf Americana act these days, from Sturgill Simpson to Chris Stapleton, Lindi Ortega to Corb Lund, expect this album to get a lot of critical attention, but don't expect it to be a hit. This is raw, gritty music, stripped down and bare, full of a kind of grinding darkness that can be suffocating in its accumulation across 11 tracks.
Wall falls on the folky side of the Americana divide, generally, and fans of Townes Van Zandt (whom he covers here) will be well served for sure. But there're some nods to Jerry Jeff Walker, David Allen Coe and others in the shambling troubadour tradition scattered throughout the record, a rare, confident, and remarkable debut from a talented newcomer. (Sony)