Nice mention in New Yorker

NIGHT LIFE

APRIL 16, 2018

Colter Wall, the Canadian Cowboy

The singer is a welcome addition to the genre of outlaw country.

By Benjamin Shapiro

Colter Wall, a rising voice in country circles, brings his gravelly ballads to the Bowery Ballroom.

Illustration by Jamie Coe

On a recent night in the woods west of Nashville, the twenty-two-year-old Canadian singer Colter Wall let out a sigh of relief. He’d been putting the finishing touches on a new batch of recordings, and one track just hadn’t felt right. “It’s an old cowboy song,” he told me. “The only one I wasn’t happy about. It’s just me singin’, playing a chord, and lettin’ it ring. It needed an atmospheric feel.” Wall wanted to nod toward the traditional country-and-Western music he’d grown up with: the folksy romanticism of Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and Marty Robbins. His producer, the Grammy winner Dave Cobb, invited Wall to his house, where he lit a fire and set up a mike; the singer finished the take accompanied by the sound of the flames. “It’s always nice to hear a crackling fire,” Wall said.

Wall is among the most reflective young country singers of his generation—though he calls himself a folksinger, and refers to his new music as Western songs. He’s also a gentleman, and will call you sir so often you might feel rude by comparison. Both his manners and his music are vestiges of an upbringing in Swift Current, Saskatchewan, an agricultural community near the Montana-Canada border. “It’s cow country,” Wall said. “A lot of ranchers, a lot of farmers, the plains.” He chuckled. “There’s an old joke that in Swift Current you can watch your dog run away all week.”

Wall’s records are starkly elegant: twanging guitar, dampened percussion and bass, and the occasional pedal steel. His ace in the hole is his showstopping voice: a resonant, husky baritone, wounded and vulnerable. The singer’s self-titled début album, released last year, was made up of eleven haunting love songs and murder ballads, borrowed from the outlaw-country movement of the nineteen-seventies, when a genre condescendingly referred to as hillbilly music shifted toward something more muted and enduring. On “Kate McCannon,” he slowly recounts a marital homicide like a lakeside tale shared at quiet dusk. Townes Van Zandt, whom Wall has covered, was a lodestar of the genre, as was James Szalapski’s 1976 music documentary, “Heartworn Highways.” The country singer Steve Earle described Wall’s songs as “stunning,” and added, “He’s been listening to the right stuff, and he gets it.”

A few days after finishing his upcoming album, Wall left for a tour that’s taking him well into the summer. He’ll be peppering a few new songs into the set, although he hasn’t landed on a name for the tour yet. “I’ll probably use the first song as the title,” he told me: “ ‘Plain to See Plainsman.’ ” He also hasn’t chosen a backing band, so it’s anyone’s guess who might be onstage with him at the Bowery Ballroom on April 11, when he’ll bring his outlaw country to a decidedly more urban audience. “For the past few months I’ve been playing solo, but I’m hoping by the time New York rolls around I might have a band with me.” ♦