by Julian Spivey
Colter Wall is certainly an interesting individual. The 22-year old country/folk troubadour from Saskatchewan, Canada made his first appearance at Stickyz Chicken Shack in Little Rock, Ark. on Friday, Nov. 10 to a packed room.
There are a couple of things that make Wall truly unique. One is the fact that he’s a 22-year old – honestly with a baby face under his thick red beard – and he’s out here playing the kind of music you’d expect to hear from old cowboy singers or folkies who were potentially too Western for Greenwich Village. The other thing that makes him unique is his upbringing. His father Brad Wall has been the premier of Saskatchewan for the last decade. Colter looks more like he should’ve been jumping trains with Jimmie Rodgers’ hobos than the offspring of the leader of a political party.
Maybe that’s just the prairies of Canada for ya?
However Colter Wall came to be the musician and songwriter he is, especially at such a young age, we should be grateful for. His debut self-titled album was released in May and instantly had the independent country music and Americana crowd buzzing about his songwriting and stories, often told with sparse musical accompaniment. Wall’s brand of folk music is the kind you just listen and let overtake you. It’s not the kind of music you’re really going to dance or move around while listening. That’s just not the style of folk or cowboy music. Some would call his songs drab, but those are likely people who prefer upbeat music.
Wall performed many tracks from his debut full-length LP on Friday night including “Codeine Dream” and the run-in-with-the-law story that is “Thirteen Silver Dollars.” He also mixed in some new songs like “Plain to See Plainsman” and “Thinkin’ on a Woman,” which makes me hopeful for a second release. It doesn’t seem like Wall is going to be a one-album wonder.
With a deep, booming voice that's had many compare him to Johnny Cash he performed his first five or so songs by himself on stage, which is how I thought he was going to perform his entire set. He was joined for the rest of his show by a drummer who occasionally played guitar, a bassist and an incredibly talented fiddle player named Anna Blanton, who shined particularly on fiddle-driven covers like Townes Van Zandt’s “White Freight Liner Blues.”
The biggest crowd response during the show came when Wall performed “Kate McCannon” about mid-way through the night. “Kate McCannon” is an old-school murder ballad about falling in love with a woman, catching her cheating on you and then ending her life. It’s probably the best song on his debut and one of 2017’s highlights in general. However, I must say the crowd response at the song’s end was at least a little off-putting considering the song’s narrator murders a woman. It’s one of those moments where whooping and hollering from a crowd can make you think and wonder things about their character.
I didn’t think too highly about the character of many in attendance at Stickyz anyway on Friday night. Wall’s music being kind of soft and slow – as you’d expect from a folk singer – means it can be easier to focus on things going on around you. It seemed many in attendance were more concerned with drinking their beers and conversing with each other about their inane daily lives than listening to the stunning performances of this talented up-and-comer. It’s particularly irritating because there is a sign above the stage at Stickyz that reads: “Love Live Music.” It’s a message that these patrons need to have hammered into their heads.
One of my favorite original performances of the night was “Motorcycle,” which was inspired by and references Arlo Guthrie’s “The Motorcycle Song” from his 1967 classic album Alice’s Restaurant. “Motorcycle” is the most upbeat and lively song of the album and includes one of my favorite verses on any song this year when it takes this shot at modern-day country music: “Well, I figure I’ll walk to the liquor store/Thunderbird, two bottles/Maybe three, maybe four/Follow my feet down to Music Row/Pour it on the pavement like you would a tombstone.”
Wall pours a few out for his homies during his shows with such great covers as the previously mentioned Townes Van Zandt classic, Roy Acuff’s “Wabash Cannonball,” Jimmie Rodgers’ “Blue Yodel No. 6 (Midnight Turning Day Blues)” and Ray Wylie Hubbard’s “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother.”
Wall finished his great seat with “Sleeping on the Pavement,” which appeared on his 2015 EP Imaginary Appalachia, and got him noticed by many when his music appeared in the 2016 critically-acclaimed film “Hell or High Water.” Wall would return to the stage for an encore of “The Devil Wears a Suit and Tie” after the crowd, suddenly seeming to give a damn, asked for a return.
Fellow Canadian Blake Berglund opened for Wall on Friday night and showed off his great personality that truly made him one of the best unknown (to me) concert openers I've seen. I’ll have to check out more of his music and he certainly had me laughing more than once during his set, especially with a tune called “Get off the Table, Mabel.”