Colter Wall’s Western Swing & Waltzes and Other Punchy Songs is so old school, it’s actually pre-traditional country music. It hearkens back to a time when folks still referred to the genre as ‘country and western,’ because this collection distinctly leans western. He may be from Saskatchewan (not exactly John Wayne country), but Wall clearly knows his way around the cowboy life.
Wall produced this album himself and has kept its instrumentation minimal. In addition to guitars, one also hears dobro, fiddle, and harmonica, when appropriate. The album opens with a song/statement of purpose, so to speak, with “Western Swing & Waltzes.” On it, Wall extols the virtues of a “bovine raising man.” The track also includes some mighty sweet steel guitar. Wall may sing about western swing on this song, but the album doesn’t include any of that jazzier stuff.
The album’s lyrical tone is best exemplified by “Big Iron,” a gunslinger tale most famously recorded by Marty Robbins on his Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs in 1959. The song’s lyric is so detailed and cinematic, hearing it feels like watching an old cowboy movie. (This big iron referred to, by the way is a gun).
The album’s most unusual track is “Talkin’ Prairie Boy,” which after a false start, features Wall speak- singing his way through it. Stylistically, this recording hearkens back to early Bob Dylan ‘talkin’’ songs, like “Talkin’ World War III Blues,” only Wall is ‘talking’ about contemporary rural life. It’s as fascinating, as it is unusual, and just one of many reasons to love this simultaneously contemporary and retro album.