Record Of The Week # 51

October 24, 2018

Colter Wall – Songs Of The Plains

Colter Wall’s second release Songs Of The Plains comes quickly after his 2017 debut. Judging by the 11 songs it appears that there was still a lot left unsaid. The images conjured in these lyrics continue his theme of being a drifter, whether today in his native Canada or the 19th Century American Wild West. The simplicity of the arrangements and, producer, David Cobb’s continued isolation and promotion of Wall’s unique and remarkable voice make this an intimate experience where the pace of delivery, timbre and the rising and falling is literally orchestral.

A simple chord pattern on his acoustic guitar starts “Plain To See Plainsman” and Wall declares, “I cut through the Rockies like some unholy blade”. We are placed in the Canadian outdoors learning of his love of the mountains, ocean and wheat fields. This is his home with its raw beauty, unforgiving winters and wide open spaces. He says that recent conversations in Europe and the USA confirmed how little his fans knew about Canada. With pride and sentimentality he immediately sets the record straight.

“John Beyers (Camaro Song)” was debuted on his last tour and recounts his planned retribution after three bullets were put into his prized 1969 Chevrolet Camaro. From here we learn about his impetuous past. “Wild Bill Hickok” tells the story of this Wild West plainsman legend. We end with Bill’s untimely demise after a disgruntled fellow gambler shot him. To achieve this full timeline in just over two and half minutes shows his gift as an economic wordsmith.

There are seven original compositions. However Wall walks the talk as regards his love of the catalogue of traditional North American folk songs. On tour he played Wabash Cannonball and Railroad Bill and on the album are “Tying Knots In The Devil’s Tail” (with vocal duties shared with fellow Canadians Corb Lund and Blake Berglund), “Calgary Round-Up” and “Night Herding Song”. The latter is a traditional cowboy song; it didn’t work in his Nashville studio and so he recorded it live beside an outdoor fire. 

His compositions are the most memorable and the Western Swing of “Thinkin’ On A Woman” sees him joined on acoustic guitar by Cobb and Lloyd Green on pedal steel. Throughout the album other instrumentation is light of touch and always sits behind his powerful baritone voice. Special mention must go to Mickey Raphael on harmonica – it would be easier to list the luminaries who he hasn’t played with – always measured, sparse and evocative.

Despite the inevitable unrequited message this is one of his most upbeat songs. Others can be bleak and “Manitoba Man” covers the abandonment of another female “light of his life”. However the man in question is selling drugs at a garage in Manitoba and a visit is necessary before he flees. 

After his 2017 breakthrough with his eponymous album it wasn’t guaranteed that his star would continue to shine brightly in a very crowded marketplace of talent. Wall is armed with stories, the sympathetic husbandry of David Cobb and a unique voice that is commanding and sonorous. I consider this Volume 2 to his last release but whether you want more or he’s new to you then this is a wonderful record.

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