Colter Wall Credit: Melissa Stillwell

For years now, producer Dave Cobb has worked to revive the aesthetic of 70s country—the sometimes dusky, sometimes cosmic sound adopted by the era’s most rebellious and cantankerous figures, whether outlaw stars or psychedelic singer-poets. Among the records he’s shepherded through the studio process is the 2017 self-titled debut by singer-songwriter Colter Wall, a husky baritone from Saskatoon, Canada. Cobb has given the album an austerity rooted in folk tradition, with no trace of the pop that’s infected so much contemporary country. The arrangement on “Codeine Dreams” adds just enough delicate instrumentation to Wall’s intimate delivery, letting his voice take center stage as he describes blunting a heartbreak with the opioid hallucinations of the title. In some ways Colter Wall feels like a honky-tonk album spun at 16 RPM, its portraits of misunderstood loners, grifters, and tragic heroes moving at a druggy crawl. That lugubrious pace suits the murder ballad “Kate McCannon,” where the narrator goes straight to win a woman’s affection, only to shoot her when he finds her with another lover. Somewhat incongruously, the album also includes a silly skit where somebody playing a radio DJ praises Wall’s music, but the singer is his own best advocate: “Transcendent Ramblin’ Railroad Blues” expresses his existential darkness and restless searching better than any DJ, real or fake, ever could.   v