Published Oct 09, 2018Operating in the misty zone between present and past, between truth and myth, and between performer and performance, we find Saskatchewan's Colter Wall. A plains-bred and now Nashville-based folk singer, Wall has spent the better part of the 2010s developing his craft, working on his impossibly rich baritone, and building an arsenal of songs that sound as ancient, in his spare acoustic performances, as they do immediate.
It shouldn't work. A self-consciously archaic approach to songwriting, wildly uncommercial arrangements, and lyrics that sound lifted from Louis L'Amour novels — it's all a bit much. And yet, somehow, in the hands of this fledgling troubadour — he is barely 24 years old — these borderline absurdities come across as genuinely meaningful. It may all be an act, but what isn't? And anyway, how are you going to get mad about a folk singer with his head in some unreconstructed past when the contemporary world is a relentless garbage fire?
On his terrific sophomore record, Wall paints a portrait of a mythic Canadiana, a western region of lonesome plains and grizzled frontiersmen, of rodeos and gunfighters, of hardscrabble existences and unlucky bounces. It's a "print the legend" approach to a much more complicated story, but as a testament to the people and places he imagines he came from, it's evocative enough.
And as refracted through Dave Cobb's campfire production, there's light enough here to see the horizons. There's a reason Steve Earle, Amy Ray, Rick Rubin and a host of other Americana luminaries have stood up to praise the young Wall. If he hadn't proven himself on his much-lauded debut, it's here for all to see on Songs of the Plains. (Sony Music)