Colter Wall is a 21-year-old country musician out of Canada who plays, and writes, like someone who has been around for a long, long time. His self-titled debut, produced by none other than Dave Cobb (Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell, Chris Stapleton), dropped early last month, and it’s one of my favorite records of the year thus far.
The first thing you notice about Wall is the deep, direct tone of his voice. Saying someone “has an old soul” is a cliché I typically try to avoid, but it really is true in this case; the guy sounds like he’s been at this for decades when, in reality, he wasn’t even born until the mid-90s. Cobb’s bare-bones production is something else that stand out about this record. Wall is often accompanied by nothing but an acoustic guitar, and when a full band does show up, it makes sure to never overstay its welcome. It’s a stark contrast to say, Simpson’s debut, which was loaded with high-energy performances in the tradition of Johnny Cash or Waylon Jennings at their most raw and chaotic.
Colter Wall opens with “Thirteen Silver Dollars,” a song he wrote about a dramatic run-in he once had with a police officer, and it’s a perfect introduction to both his style and his impressive songwriting skills. And then out jumps this old boy, Wall sings. About twice the size of me/ He asked me for my name and where I dwell/ I just looked him in the eye/ And sang “Blue Yodel Number 9”/ He didn’t catch the reference, I could tell. Dude can write a hell of a lyric!
The slow, sorrowful “Codeine Dream” and the slightly upbeat “Motorcycle” are two other early highlights, each one showing a different side of Wall’s writing. And then listeners will land on the album’s greatest achievement, and one of the better songs from any genre that I’ve heard in years: a stunning murder ballad called “Kate McCannon.” In the song, the narrator falls madly in love with a woman, discovers she’s fooling around and then shoots her down in a fit of rage. It’s a tale as old as time, of course, and the subject of some of the most famous country, folk and rock and roll songs of all time, but Wall still manages to put his own spin on it by opening with a look at the murderer in jail and then going back and filling in the details. Well the raven is a wicked bird, Wall sings. His wings are black as sin/ And he floats outside my prison window/ Mocking those within/ And he sings to me real low/ “It’s hell to where you go/ For you did murder Kate McCannon.”
Colter Wall peaks with “Kate McCannon,” but the remaining tracks are still of the highest quality. “You Look to Yours,” for instance, is downright beautiful, like something George Jones would have performed in the early 70s. And Wall’s cover of “Fraulein,” which he sings alongside Tyler Childers, is so good that you’ll want to play it all over again the moment it ends.
Overall, this is a phenomenal debut. It features just 10 songs, with a brief interlude positioned at the halfway point, but it’s hard to complain about wanting more when the material is as strong as it is here. There’s absolutely no filter to be found, and Colter Wall is a record you’ll want to revisit again and again. Any country fan would adore this album, but I’d also recommend it to anyone who loves hearing a new, talented songwriter do what they do best.
Listen below …