Colter Wall | Little Songs Review
Sagebrush Serenades: Unpacking the Paradox of Colter Wall’s Little Songs
by Tom Faddis
Colter Wall’s Little Songs seems, at first listen, to be a charming compendium of rural Canadian vignettes. These are tales steeped in the hard work, struggle, and even depression that beset Wall’s neighboring ranches and farms. There’s a commendable honesty in the way Wall addresses the grit of these agrarian realities, juxtaposing them with the solace offered by a “good, happy tune.”
The album opens with the intriguing “Prairie Evening/Sagebrush Waltz,” a well-orchestrated blend of two songs. Wall’s familiar, fireside gruff vocals, aided by a tastefully harmonizing ensemble of fiddle, pedal steel, and harmonica, pave the way for a journey into his “high and lonesome plains.” There’s an undeniable warmth to Wall’s storytelling that almost lulls you into the sweeping landscapes he paints.
Yet, as a purist, I find myself grappling with the authenticity of Wall’s sonic presentation. There’s an almost palpable weight of nostalgia that leans heavily towards a bygone era, which, while admirable in its homage, somewhat distances the listener from the contemporary moment. The album teeters precariously between a heartfelt tribute and a nostalgic fantasy, and the equilibrium is only sometimes flawlessly achieved.
His cover of Ian Tyson’s “The Coyote & The Cowboy” is admirably executed, but it leaves me wondering if Wall has fully embraced his own narrative voice. His distinct, robust baritone, particularly in songs like “Corralling the Blues” and “Honky Tonk Nighthawk,” can sometimes feel like an overplayed homage to the classics. Wall’s well-practiced vibrato and phrasing techniques, while technically laudable, occasionally cast a veil of artifice over his narratives, detracting from the raw authenticity that the themes of the album demand.
Yet, there are moments when Wall’s genius shines through. “For a Long While” showcases his haunting, resonant vocals in a backdrop of storytelling lyrics that evoke the isolation and loneliness of rural life. Here, his collaboration with bandmate Patrick Lyons truly flourishes. The same can be said about the cowboy blues track “Cow/Calf Blue Yodel,” where Wall’s yodeling, although a bit overzealous, provides a memorable splash of novelty and shows his exciting vocal skills. Is this an innovative direction in his music?
The titular track, “Little Songs,” juxtaposes its lighthearted, two-stepping tune against a backdrop of hardships faced by the farming community in his homeland. This provides a social commentary that feels relevant and necessary, even as the overall delivery still harks back to traditional country idioms.
Colter Wall’s Little Songs paints a vivid picture of his homeland, but I find myself craving a little more contemporary relevance, a bit more of Wall’s own voice amidst the echoes of the past. As a lover of the genre’s pure form, I wonder if Wall’s commitment to classic country sounds somewhat limits the depth and contemporariness of his storytelling. His talent is clear, but there’s potential for even greater authenticity and innovation.
Release Date: July 14, 2023
Label: La Honda Records/RCA Records