Please indulge me here, SMGM readers and listeners. We’re going to diverge slightly from our customary writing-first/music-last protocol, and ask that you give a quick listen to the tune linked below before we proceed. It’s short. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
Hold on a sec, I know some of you just skipped by. C’mon now, play along. Even 30-40 seconds will do. Promise? Okay scroll back up, we’re standing by again.
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Alright then, after now hearing at least some of that song, here’s the ensuing multiple-choice question. Would you assume that:
a) it was recorded something like 70 years ago
b) it’s sung by a guy over 70 years old
c) both of them, 70 + 70, if not even longer and older
(and don’t be distracted in answering by that cowpoke kid that’s shown)
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Well, if you guessed a), b) or c) you’re way off, and should have held out for d) none of the above.
(there’s also a good chance my attempted misdirection wasn’t as clever as I tried for and you kind of saw that coming)
So here’s the deal: the old-timey, Depression-era sounding production was recorded in 2018 in Nashville; and that bristly, weathered-in-the-Dust-Bowl voice belongs to a then-23 year old Canadian named Colter Wall (and yeah, hard to believe but he is, in fact, the cherubic young’un pictured on the clip you listened to above).
Wall, a native of Swift Current, Saskatchewan and now all of 28, recently released his 4th full-length album entitled Little Songs – “You might not see a soul for days on them high and lonesome plains,” he sings, “You got to fill the big empty with little songs.” And though his deep, gruff baritone, understated vocal intonations, and prairie-based songwriting thematics all seem jarringly out of step in 2023, Colter Wall has ultra-casually grinded out a nifty rustic niche in the oftentimes glittery world of contemporary country music. With apologies to Phil Spector, these evocative notes are a vastly different Wall of sound.
Pitchfork magazine wrote that listening to the traditional sounds on Little Songs, “can feel like dropping a coin into the local nickelodeon and watching the past flicker to life.” The first single, ‘Evangelina,’ covers a 1976 tune penned by Oklahoma folkie Hoyt Axton (writer of Three Dog Night’s ‘Joy To The World’ and ‘Never Been to Spain,’ their two biggest hits). It’s a forlorn tale of an out-of-reach lover across the unforgiving desert in old Mexico, and despite the tune’s despondent story, by Wall’s typically somber standards the pacing and instrumentation are practically peppy. I’ve found it irresistibly charming as well as almost magically enveloping: a feeling of being cocooned in a hardscrabble, bygone world while kissed with just a hint of present-day freshness. It’s been on repeat for me for months.
I hope you’ll give it a listen of your own (preferably this time in full). But remember to consider as you do that the haunting, guttural, world-weary voice you hear delivering its despairing aesthetic belongs, amazingly, to a fresh-faced twenty-something kid raised amidst the tech culture of the aughts. Sometimes sounds, in addition to looks, can be quite deceiving.