When it comes to the traditional country revival, Canada’s Colter Wall is one of the hottest acts around. After a string of sell-out dates in the UK and the release of his critically acclaimed debut album in 2017, he’s back with his Imaginary Applachia EP which is now available on vinyl and CD.
The EP opens with Sleeping on the Blacktop, which recently featured in the films Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and Hell Or High Water. It’s a melodic yet atmospheric song which builds up layers of guitar and clapping percussion before Wall’s rich vocal comes in. The steady rhythm contrasts with Wall’s quick delivery of the lyrics, which paint a bleak picture that really comes to life as he sings.
Throughout the EP Wall contrasts folky, traditional melodies with melancholy lyrics. Whilst he’s not afraid to nod to country’s past, such as the a capella rendition of Dixieland with The Dead South which opens Johnny Boy’s Bones, he also puts his own stamp on the songs which stop them feeling too outdated. I also really liked that he kept the arrangements very simple; the stripped-back, acoustic nature allows his vocal and storytelling ability to stand out, such as on the cinematic, dreamy Nothin’.
One thing that particularly impressed me was Wall’s level of vocal control throughout the EP. He shows off a lovely vibrato quality on several songs, which enhances the emotion but without being too over-the-top. As a result, they’re a lot more affecting than if he was belting them out. Additionally I loved his harmonies with the other artists featured on the EP, particularly Belle Plaine on the spiritual, mournful yet strangely hopeful Caroline.
However for me the standout tracks were Living on the Sand and Ballad Of A Law Abiding Sophisticate. In both songs Wall’s voice perfectly captured the sense of hopelessness and resignation of the lyrics, whilst he created some incredibly vivid imagery in them. In particular the vision of the protagonist’s barroom fight in Ballad of a Law Abiding Sophisticate will stick with me for a long time. I also felt that he completely embodied the characters in the two songs, which consequently creates a really strong connection with the listener.
The final track on the EP is The Devil Wears a Suit and Tie, which I think sums the whole set up very well. It’s a midtempo song filled with twangy guitars and little riffs, hinting at Wall’s guitar-playing abilities, whilst the confessional feel of the lyrics comes through in his subdued vocal. You get the sense that he could belt the song out if he chose to, but the fact he mains a sense of quiet command throughout makes it even more unsettling. The abrupt ending and false finish add to this further, leaving you unsure that it’s over and yet still wanting more.
Overall Imaginary Applachia is a solid introduction to Colter Wall’s music, showing off his traditional style and ability to create realistic, fully-realised characters and stories in his songs. My only criticism is that did feel it was a little samey in places and would have liked a bit more variety. However, he’s shown that he can craft and deliver a song well and I’m interested to see what direction he goes in next.
Track listing: 1. Sleeping On the Blacktop 2. Johnny Boy’s Bones (with The Dead South) 3. Caroline (with Belle Plaine) 4. Living On the Sand 5. Ballad of a Law Abiding Sophisticate 6. Nothin’ 7. The Devil Wears a Suit and Tie Record label: Young Mary’s Record Co Release date: 19th January 2018