Colter Wall – ‘Songs of the Plains’: A Review
It has been almost a year and a half since Colter Wall released his self-titled debut album. The follow up, Songs of the Plains, is an intimate record with an authentic, classic sound that employs only the basic means and instrumentation required to deliver the sound and message of each piece. In most cases, this boils down to Wall’s deep and rugged vocals, simple percussion, and suitably old-fashioned guitar picking.
The album is highly reflective in nature, rooted in Wall’s own persona and background, which is nicely juxtaposed with fictional storytelling. On the album’s opening track, ‘Plain to See Plainsman‘, Wall expresses a love and a yearning for home. Home, in this case, is the Great Plains – more specifically Saskatchewan, Canada. Lingering on this roots for the following track, ‘Saskatchewan in 1881‘ serves as a reflection of what the area must have been like in 1881, stating how Mr. Toronto Man – the classical big city fella – should not “… be pickin’ fights with no Mennonites – don’t pick on the hard-working men.“
Most tracks on the album are structured in a storytelling format. Whilst some stories are fictional, such as the Wilf Carter cover ‘Calgary Round-Up‘, which focuses on the adventures and comradeship of “… a jolly bunch of cowboys“, others are based on real experiences from Wall’s life. In ‘Manitoba Man‘, a man is selling drugs at a station store. The song’s narrator has a “good gal” who is “… dreamin’ of raisin’ a son“, but, although the narrator is planning on just “… makin’ one more stop” at the station store, the dark tone of the song hints at his struggle to let go and illustrates the negative impact this is having on this life.
Whilst the easy going cowboyish atmosphere and stripped instrumentation, which is dominant on Songs of the Plains, makes for a nice country album, it is, in my opinion, on the darker tracks, similar to those of his debut album, that Wall is the most powerful. Another example of this is the song ‘Wild Dogs‘, a haunting piece of music which delivers the tale of two lovers through beautiful lines such as: “Just like our old friend the Indian, we’d only kill to feed ourselves / Or to protect those we loved from danger.” The gloomy tone of these tracks brings out qualities in Wall’s voice and music, where artists like Johnny Cash, Leonard Cohen, and even Nick Cave come to mind. It is also not surprising that songs from Wall’s repertoire have been used on soundtracks for motion pictures, as he is consistently brilliant in painting pictures with his lyrics (here is to hope that we will one day hear his music in a Tarantino movie – it would certainly be a perfect fit). This quality, luckily, remains on Wall’s second album.
Whilst Songs of the Plains is as effective as Colter Wall in showing of Wall’s skills as a storyteller, the album falls a little short of the darkness that made his debut album truly stand out. Nonetheless, there are some brilliant pieces present, and the album does not leave any doubt about the talent and, critically, the potential that Wall possesses.
It will be very interesting to see which direction Wall moves in for the future. No matter what, I suggest that you keep an eye on him.
You can stream Songs of the Plains on Spotify and other streaming services now.