Review Summary: A picture can paint a thousand words, and a voice can paint a thousand stanzas.
Listening to Colter Wall’s humble debut album is a wonderful example of doing so much with so little. Most of what you’re listening to is just one man and his guitar; maybe you’ll hear some minimal percussion or a slight twang here and there, but the true focus is the relationship between a singer-songwriter and his acoustic partner. Wall is clearly drawing from a well of old-school country influences, from the folk-inflected Americana of Johnny Cash to the honky-tonk outlaw country of Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, but manages to sound very distinctive in his own right. This may be just a debut album, but Wall already manages to capture both a focused and varied sound; the tempos and dynamics differ pretty wildly from song to song, but they never stick out like a sore thumb. The fast finger-picking and pedal steel chords of “Motorcycle” are a perfect counterpoint to the slow waltz-like tread of ballad “Me and Big Dave.” Likewise, the radio interlude “W.B.’s Talkin’” is a perfect divider to separate the subtle understated melancholy of both “Kate McCannon” and “Snake Mountain Blues.” It seems as though there was a lot of attention paid to organizing the flow of the tracklist, and the more bluesy upbeat songs near the end - particularly the more elaborately composed “Bald Butte” - represent a notable evolution from the sonic simplicity that was begun with “Thirteen Silver Dollars.”
However, the instrumental stuff is only half of the story here. Hell, it might be less than half. Believe me, if there’s any writeup that needs to dedicate its primary focus to vocals, it’s this one. As if the guitarwork wasn’t enough, we also have one of the best folk or country singers in recent memory on this thing. Colter Wall may only be 22, but his rich tone and smoky inflections make him sound like a vocalist who’s experienced life well beyond his years. Combined with his down-to-earth, humanistic portraits of everyday life, his singing ensures that this album is as real and traditional as it gets, as well as not falling into any gimmicky modern trends of the country genre as a whole. Give this album to a Brad Paisley or a Blake Shelton and I assure you they’d probably fall flat on their asses trying to perform it. Complementing the delicate fingerpicking and simple rhythms with such an organic, burly, raspy voice is just a match made in heaven for an album like this, and Wall is undoubtedly the highlight of the entire collection because of that. His singing aches and bleeds emotion over the music, and his roughness and coarseness provide just the right amount of realism to glaze over the often low-key arrangements. This may only be a debut album, but it’s an incredibly exciting one at that. And what’s even more exciting is the speculation of what will happen once this man actually does
age and reach that level of experience that his voice conveys.