This was a sell-out concert which had a quite diverse audience in terms of both age and gender and made one wonder why this concert had that level of appeal when other equally worthwhile Americana/Country artists (who often appear in the smaller upstairs venue) can only garner a handful of fans. Something to ponder for the future I feel.
Whatever the reason this was a highly entertaining evening which was opened by fellow Saskatchewan country artist Belle Paine. She had recorded a duet with Wall on the song Caroline fromhis Imaginary Appalachia album and indeed joined him during his set to do the same again. Paine is a storyteller and each song was prefaced byits background and the genesis of the lyrics. Often, they were songs that related to her own family like Laila Sady Johnson Wasn’t Beaten By No Train, which detailed the night her Grandmother’s truck was hit by a train (she survived without a scratch) and songs that recountedrelationship turmoil like Rock Bottom. These were delivered in a strong clear voice that held the room. Accompanied only by her acoustic guitar she most certainly made some new friends.
She was joined, later in the set, by her husband and fellow singer/songwriter Blake Berglund for a couple of numbers,including their take on Alan Jackson’s Mercury Blues. The songs were mainly from her most recent album Malice, Mercy, Grief and Wrath but also included a captivating version of Long Black Veil, a classic love/murder balled written by Marijohn Wilkin and Danny Dill.
ColterWall took to the stage solo and the folk singer side of his music was apparent with his deep baritone voice and Martin guitar. He evoked a time and place that for many in the audience exists only in films, books, photographs and songs. He is tapping into a legacy that runs back to such strong storytellers as Ian Tyson, Don Edwards and more recent performers like fellow Canadian Corb Lund and Montana’s Wylie and the Wild West. A musical linage that runs back to artists like Wilf Carter and Marty Robbins and beyond,as these songs were often adaptions of much older tunes.
He opened with one such ballad titled Old Paint.Credited in some sources to Woody Guthrie, the song actually has older antecedents.This was followed by “a song about change” The Trains Are GoneandJohn Beyers (Camaro Song),one of several taken from his most recent album SongsOf The Plains. Any notion thatthe lyrics and theme on the album were something of a passing phase were dismissed, as the new songs that he played were about Sam Colt and Fred Remington and practising throwing Houlihan’s(a cowboy roping method) with similar Western/Rodeo content.
His long time band, all of whom were nuanced players, were Patrick Lyons on Dobro and pedal steel - standing out by largely taking the lead instrument role. The rhythm section of Jason Simpson on bass and Solly Levine on drums were subtle and in sync with the tempo and mood of each song. This was topped off by Jake Groves’ contribution on harmonica, an instrument which added a definite flavour and campfire feel to the proceedings.
Along with his own songs he also covered a Ramblin’ Jack Elliott song and Hoyle Nix’s Big Balls In Cowtown. All of these went down well with the audience who were attentive throughout as Wall gave some detail to some of the songs they played. He seemed a little shy at times and limitedthe chat in favour of playingmore songs. At the end of the show rather than leave the stage for an encore and then after a while coming back, they played the penultimate song and then the encore, Ray Wylie Hubbard’s Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother with Belle Plaine and Blake Berglund joining in for the rousing chorus. Then they were gone leaving the audience wanting more and the feeling that Colter Wall will be back before too long to evoke a time and place that still exists and is lauded in song.
Review by Stephen Rapid Photography by Kaethe Burt O’Dea