Never before have I been so nervous to talk about an album as I am with Colter Wall’s self-titled debut album. I mean good Lord, the fans come out of the woodwork to tear into anyone who talks about this album – even if the person talking overall likes the album! Granted, that happens with every album/artist but still. As such, I think I should caution this review by saying – yes, there is one minor criticism I have for this album, but overall I want to see Colter succeed because he’s an incredible talent, and for an artist to craft a debut album THIS GOOD at the mere age of 21 is incredible. Heck, Imaginary Appalachia was one of my favorite listens of 2015, and this debut album didn’t let me down in the slightest.
So let’s get that criticism out of the way right now – when it comes to the production, I respect the hell out of Dave Cobb, but honestly I wish Colter had stuck with Jason Plumb for this release, if only because he was able to spice up the arrangements or give them some sort of an edge on Appalachia. The lyrics are ultimately what matter with Colter Wall, but I echo anyone else who says that the minimalist approach doesn’t always lead to some home runs on this project. This isn’t me saying that Colter should or needs to do anything different the next time around, this is just me stating one thing I wanted more of as a music fan.
With that out of the way, this is one of the best debut albums I’ve heard in a long time. What I love about Colter’s writing is that sure, he’s able to speak from some pretty cool firsthand experiences like on “Thirteen Silver Dollars” and “Motorcycle”, but the focus is never truly on him. Instead, he’s able to do what I wish artists would do more of these days – tell stories. Even on the aforementioned tracks he’s able to bring a wit and insight that’s incredible for someone who his age. The line about singing “Blue Yodel #9” to a stern policeman is one moment of pure poetry, as is the epic story song closer of “Bald Butte” which proves how far revenge can get you sometimes.
Some tracks like feel more personal like the slow, melancholy pain exuded in “Codeine Dream”, and especially one of the album highlights “Transcendental Ramblin’ Railroad Blues”. It’s somewhat of a lighter moment sonically, but there’s still so much weight to the songwriting to give it somewhat of a melancholic feel. I absolutely love it.
There’s also some tracks that get downright heavy like the depressing “Me and Big Dave” and especially “Kate McCannon”, easily the crown jewel here. I talked about this song once before, and my God…it holds up. It’s got that dark atmospheric touch to it that I loved from Imaginary Appalachia, and the way the song leads up into that hook around the 3:10 mark is absolutely chill-inducing. We get that more ominous vibe off of the Townes Van Zandt cover of “Snake Mountain Blues”, and again, I wish we had more of these moments because they show what can happen where there’s a good balance between the instrumentation and the lyrical content.
There are some lighter moments on this album too, and the important part of incorporating something different into an album is making sure it still flows nicely, which Colter is able to do. “Motorcyle” is surprisingly enough the one track here that I would deem “fun”, especially with that bouncy acoustic melody and pedal steel play throughout. “Fraulein” (which sees Tyler Childers joining Colter) is also a nice cover of a Bobby Helms song that provides a moment of relief before “Bald Butte”. Plus, considering this album already has somewhat of a vintage feel to this, it’s fitting that “W.B.’s Talkin'” is literally a nice break in the middle of the album. It shows a special attention to the sequencing and flow of the overall record. “You Look To Yours” is also a good change of pace with the soft piano, but it’s probably the one track here I would describe as good instead of downright excellent like the others here.
So if you can’t tell already, I absolutely love this album. Colter Wall is a damn fine talent, and while I did wish we got a little more variety in the sound here, there’s no denying that Colter Wall is one of the finest lyricists there is out there today. To be able to craft something this excellent at 21 is nothing short of astounding, and considering this is merely his debut, I can’t wait to see what else is in store. This is easily a decent 9/10 for me.
Best Songs: “Kate McCannon”, “Snake Mountain Blues”, “Transcendental Ramblin’ Railroad Blues”, “Motorcycle”, “Codeine Dream”, “Bald Butte”
Weakest Song: “You Look To Yours”