Colter Wall - Western Swing & Waltzes and Other Punchy Songs Music Album Reviews

Colter Wall - Western Swing & Waltzes and Other Punchy Songs Music Album Reviews
The Canadian country singer trades his solitary fare for a new set of stories, and a backing band that cuts in and out like a dance partner.

Canadian singer-songwriter Colter Wall hasn’t needed much more than his singular voice—a charred, whiskey-soaked baritone that belies his years—to tell colorful tales of the western frontier and the folk heroes who populate it. Across 2017’s self-titled debut and 2018’s follow-up Songs of the Plains, he kept the arrangements sparse, letting his voice pull focus. There was no pressing need for a full backing band when his primary instrument filled a space so completely.
With his new album Western Swing & Waltzes and Other Punchy Songs, Wall trades that solitary fare for a new set of stories—and a new way to tell them. Recorded with a full band, Western Swing moves away from Wall’s unvarnished veneration of the Wild West and swings wide the barn doors. This here’s a party.

While Dave Cobb produced Songs of the Plains, here Wall takes the reins. Cobb honed Wall’s instincts, stripping his songs down so that they felt like campfire tales traded after a long and lonesome ride. But Wall doesn’t press in quite so tight. His penchant for “atmospheric feel” sounds different: He leaves ample space, layering and texturing each track so the band never overshadows his voice—instead, they cut in and out like dance partners. Odd squeaks bleed through at times, as on “Talkin’ Prairie Boy,” when it sounds as though someone inadvertently opens the studio door. Wall leaves that sound in, as well as his resolute chuckle at the end. Those choices bring Western Swing & Waltzes closer to a live album, further reflecting the hoedown charm the backing band adds.

On Song of the Plains, Wall focused his songwriting on wide Canadian vistas and the time—and solitude—it takes to traverse them. But Western Swing & Waltzes gets closer to embodying that capacious sensation. The title track unfurls like a map, an ode to Wall’s native Saskatchewan. “East of beautiful Alberta/North of old Montan’,” he sings about the province, situating it not just physically but spiritually—as a descendent of traditional folk and country’s storied lineage.

Wall has regularly sung of the rugged prairie landscape that reared him, but on “Western Swings & Waltzes,” he seems more satisfied to nod to it rather than keep it in sight. It’s a framing song, setting the milieu of the following tracks and their resplendent “punch”: “It’s Western swing and waltzes in Saskatchewan tonight,” he sings, while the band line dances around his voice with fiddle, pedal steel, DeFord Bailey-esque harmonica, and piano. The scuffs and scratches lacing their imaginary dancefloor feel palpable.

Western Swing & Waltzes includes only a handful of original songs from Wall, who covers Marty Robbins’s “Big Iron,” Stan Jones’s “Cowpoke,” and Lewis Martin Pederson’s “High & Mighty,” as well as two traditional songs, “I Ride an Old Paint” and “Diamond Joe.” Wall keeps the locomotive pace of “Big Iron,” but eschews the original’s polish and backing harmonies, giving his voice new land to roam. Under his thumb, Jones’s “Cowpoke” sheds its upbeat tempo and technicolor flare. Wall’s voice works in tandem with the song’s harmonica and pedal steel to elevate the high lonesome yodel of the original into something scorched and reverent. Having showcased his distinctive voice in ways sparse and spare, he now fills out the room.
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Colter Wall - Western Swing & Waltzes and Other Punchy Songs Music Album Reviews Colter Wall - Western Swing & Waltzes and Other Punchy Songs Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Thursday, September 17, 2020 Rating:

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