In 2014, over 3,000 miles away from Appalachia in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, Colter Wall first started recording the songs that would make up his first EP, Imaginary Appalachia. At the time, Wall was still a young university student, but his baritone voice already sounded weathered and road weary. He's been honing his outlaw sound ever since.
His song, "Sleeping on the Blacktop," caught early attention in high places and was featured in two films, Hell or Highwater and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Soon after, the track blew up on Spotify, earning thousands of streams from intrigued listeners.
In 2016, after performing an opening set for Lucinda Williams at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium, Wall was approached by famed record producer Rick Rubin, who offered him a publishing deal.
Wall's self-titled, full-length debut came out the following year. Produced by Dave Cobb, the critically acclaimed record further honed in on Wall's traditional outlaw country sound. Just one year later, he shared his follow-up LP, Songs of the Plains, a collection of songs firmly rooted in traditional folk and country storytelling. With Songs of the Plains, Wall melded cowboy traditionals with autobiographical tracks that fully captured the prairies of his homeland.
With his latest album, 2020's Western Swing & Waltzes and Other Punchy Songs, Wall took a different route, opting to self-produce and independently release the 10-track LP. While Western Swing & Waltzes symbolizes a new era of creative freedom for Wall, it also digs deeper into his roots, continuing his mission of sonically merging the West's past and present.
Earlier this year, Wall hinted at a new LP to come with the release of "Cypress Hills and the Big Country" along with a cover of Waylon Jennings' "Let's All Help the Cowboys (Sing the Blues)." For now, take a listen to these 10 standout songs from Colter Wall's impressive career:
"You're Lucky She's Lonely" (Feat. Summer Dean)From: 'You're Lucky She's Lonely' (2021)
Listening to "You're Lucky She's Lonely," it's easy to convince yourself that Wall and Summer Dean are covering an old-time, forgotten classic. In reality, this stellar track was co-written by Wall and Dean and released in 2021. We can thank the song's lonesome steel guitar sound and down-on-your-luck lyrics for its traditional feel.
"Cypress Hills and the Big Country"From: 'Cypress Hills and the Big Country' (2022)
On "Cypress Hills and the Big Country," Colter Wall takes listeners on a journey to southwestern Saskatchewan. His deep baritone paired with the jangling of an acoustic guitar is reminiscent of Blaze Foley, but "Cypress Hills" is undoubtedly a song that only Wall could write.
He paints a picture clear as day with his lyrics, transporting listeners to the Canadian wild: "You can see the bear paws, the old man on his back / Prickly pears blue moon in the short and native grass / There's a bunch of empty beer cans in an old, loose mineral sack / Give you some idea of where you're at."
"Nothin'"From: 'Imaginary Appalachia' (2015)
With his first EP, Imaginary Appalachia, Wall solidified his old-soul outlaw sound. While his original tracks like "Sleeping on the Blacktop" and "The Devil Wears a Suit and Tie" put a young man's energy into a time-worn traditional genre, he also carved out some space to indulge in the past.
His cover of the Townes Van Zandt classic "Nothin'" proved that Wall could also do justice to the greats: his heavy, worn-out baritone perfectly captures the desolation in Van Zandt's haunted lyrics.
"Cowpoke"From: 'Western Swing & Waltzes and Other Punchy Songs' (2020)
The life of a cowboy can be a restless one. The Stan Jones western classic "Cowpoke" takes a warm-hearted, romantic view on that type of hard living, which Wall reimagined for Western Swing & Waltzes and Other Punchy Songs. Listeners can easily picture Wall camped out around a small fire, offering his soft howls to an empty prairie sky.
"Motorcycle" From: 'Colter Wall' (2017)
Over upbeat fingerpicking, a swooning steel guitar and a boot-tapping beat, Wall daydreams about buying a motorcycle so he can drive it headfirst into a telephone pole. The song is a deceptively simple example of how deep-running vices and demons often exist hand-in-hand with the music that gives us purpose.
"Thinkin' on a Woman"From: 'Songs of the Plains' (2018)
Released as a single for Wall's sophomore album Songs of the Plains, "Thinkin' on a Woman" tells the time-old tale of a rambling, drunken man thinking about a woman he's done wrong and shouldn't have. It's just one of many standout tracks on which Wall takes some universal and time-old experience and makes it all his own.
"Caroline" (Feat. Belle Plaine)From: 'Imaginary Appalachia' (2015)
With a lone, mournful fiddle, ghostly harmonies by Belle Plaine, and Wall's baritone at its most wretched, "Caroline" is a grim, grim love song. He mourns a departed lover and how her absence makes every day just another example of "time's cruel slaughter." The hopeless tune finds Wall wishing to join Caroline in the grave. The song is undoubtedly dark but also possesses a cold, stark beauty.
"Faulein" (Feat. Tyler Childers)From: 'Colter Wall' (2017)
Wall teams up with Tyler Childers to reimagine "Fraulein," the 1957 track first sung by Bobby Helms. The pair trade verses about an old sweetheart, allowing their distinct voices to trade off the spotlight and offering a shining example of a new era in modern country music.
"The Devil Wears a Suit and Tie"From: 'Imaginary Appalachia' (2015)
When Wall released Imaginary Appalachia, he was an unknown kid making music up in Saskatchewan, unaware of how the EP would launch his career in a major way. "The Devil Wears a Suit and Tie" is a foreboding, foot-stomping track that tells of the devil's dealings and remains one of Wall's most popular songs.
"Sleeping on the Blacktop"From: 'Imaginary Appalachia' (2015)
"Sleeping on the Blacktop" is the song that launched Wall into mainstream consciousness back in 2015. In the years since, it's continued to take on a life of its own, appearing in TV shows Yellowstone and Bad Sisters.
Through electrifying and rich vocals, Wall growls about running from town to town, finding disarray wherever he goes. With forceful hand-claps and lyrics that mix up coyotes and young men, "Sleeping on the Blacktop" is alive with irresistible, primal energy.