Review of Colter Wall's Self-Titled Debut Album

 

5 Great Country Choruses

Colter Wall's songs embrace the time-honored country ethic of sticking almost proudly to your self-destructive ways - despite the deleterious effects they’ve had on your life. These themes, and Wall's skilled songwriting, are evident in this album's five great country choruses.

Genre: Country

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Album Review Podcast - Show Notes
Colter Wall's Self-Titled Debut EP

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Album Review: Colter Waller Debut EP
5 Great Country Choruses 

This is a transcript of Ep. 5 of the What's This Album About? podcast - listen here

Hi, everybody. I’m Bobby Waller. Welcome to What’s This Album About?, In this episode, we focus on the self-titled debut LP of alt country singer/songwriter, Colter Wall.

       ♪  It was a cold and cruel evening
            Sneaking up on Speedy Creek
            Found myself asleep and in the snow

Wall’s album is a sparsely produced collection of new but vintage-sounding country songs, like the one we’re hearing right now, the opening track, “Thirteen Sliver Dollars.” Wall’s songs are low-key and acoustic, eschewing the grand in favor of the ignoble, and embracing the time-honored country ethic of sticking almost proudly to your self-destructive ways despite the deleterious effects they’ve had on your life.

As we’ll hear in a moment, the chorus of “Thirteen Silver Dollars” is absolutely infectious, despite its modest production. And that’s a phenomenon we find throughout this album. Five of the ten songs on the album have choruses, and all five of those choruses are contagious. And so on this episode of What’s This Album About?, I’d like to do something a little different and explore this theme of being down and out but stubbornly set in your self-destructive ways by listening to the five great choruses we find on Colter Wall’s self-titled debut album, beginning with…

Great Country Chorus #1 - Thirteen Silver Dollars

       ♪  Well, I got my health
             My John B Stetson

Track #1, “Thirteen Silver Dollars” opens with its narrator homeless and sleeping in the snow because of things he’s done that he doesn’t care to repeat.

       ♪  One or two odd reasons
             I ain't too proud to repeat
             For now we'll say I had no place to go

He gets arrested, apparently for vagrancy, by an officer of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Wall, by the way, is Canadian. Taking the narrator away for booking, the officer says, “Son, I bet you don’t own a damned thing to your name.” The chorus is the narrator’s defense of himself—a list of three things he’s got…

       ♪  I got my health, my John B. Stetson
            Got a bottle full of baby’s bluebird wine
            And I left my stash somewhere down in Preston
            Along with thirteen silver dollars and my mind

I find this steadfast assertion of self-worth on the part of someone who has so little to claim his own incredibly endearing, and I can just imagine Wall’s live audiences singing along exuberantly whenever Wall sings that chorus.

I can also imagine them singing to…

Great Country Chorus #2 - Codeine Dream

Track #2, “Codeine Dream,” is written from the perspective of someone who’s life has become so surreal with misery that he feels like he lives in a hazy drug-induced nightmare. He apparently abused substances to help him cope with a lost love, but he asserts that the sting of that loss is gone now. Nonetheless, he continues to drink excessively and cry on a hotel floor every night.

       ♪  Some cruel nightly cycle
             Leaves me cryin' on a motel floor

It’s a cycle he can’t break, and the chorus is, once again, his meager defense of himself.

       ♪  Every day it seems
            My whole damn life
            Is just a codeine dream
            But I don’t dream of you
            Any more

Once again, we find a severely down-and-out narrator who can’t or won’t give up his self-destructive habits, even though they’ve driven him to the brink of utter devastation. And yet even in his diminished state, he still finds a way to assert the little bit of self-worth he still possesses. He states, in effect, “I may have nothing else going for me. But at least I’m not lovelorn.”

       ♪  But I don’t dream of you anymore

Great Country Chorus #3 - Motorcycle

Motorcycle” is Track #4, and it wastes no time in getting to the chorus. They’re the very first words we hear.

       ♪  Well, I figure I’ll buy me a motorcycle
            Wrap her pretty little frame around a telephone pole
            Drive her off a mountain like ol’ Arlo
            Figure I’ll buy me a motorcycle

The impulse toward self-destruction could not possibly be more clear. The narrator announces his intention to buy a motorcycle, which he predicts he will wreck, possibly in a death wish or possibly because he sees himself as a pathological screw-up who will inevitably ruin the things he cherishes. And yet there is something undeniably humorous and likable about this chorus. Once again, it shows a stubborn insistence on being oneself even to the point of ruin. And once again, I just can’t keep myself from singing along.

       ♪  Figure I’ll buy me a motorcycle
             Figure I’ll buy me a motorcycle
             Figure I’ll buy me a motorcycle

Great Country Chorus #4 - You Look To Yours

       ♪  I met a little girl in Saskatoon

The first verse of Track #8, “You Look To Yours,” finds the narrator in a bar where he meets a woman who is wasted to a dysfunctional degree.

       ♪  Higher than the moon

Identifying her as a kindred spirit, he decides to proposition her, but she stops him before he can even make his move. The chorus is her rejection of him.  She tells him in no uncertain terms that his motives are obvious.

       ♪  She said I know just what you’re wishin’
            Two folks in our condition
            We’ll never leave this barroom with our pride

But she is definitely not interested.

       ♪  So go about your earthly mission
            Don’t trust no politicians
            You look to yours, and I will look to mine

Our narrator is so pathetic, he can’t even begin to hook up with the most pathetic and dysfunctional woman in the bar. And yet here he is unabashedly telling us about this humiliating encounter in this super-singable country chorus that’s at least as anthemic as it is comical and, once again, unexpectedly likeable.

       ♪  You look to yours, and I will look to mine

Great Country Chorus #5 - Transcendent Ramblin’ Railroad Blues

       ♪  Lay me down easy
            Lay me down hard

The last great chorus on Colter Wall’s self-titled debut album occurs on Track # 9, “Transcendant Ramblin' Railroad Blues.” It’s a railroad lullaby, which Wall wrote in the style of the hobo balladeers of the Great Depression. The narrator sings of a desire for rest…

       ♪  Lay me down easy
             Lay me down hard
             Light my cigarette and make my bed
             Somewhere beneath the stars

…and, ultimately, peace in death.

       ♪  Don’t look for me in glory
             Don’t look for me below
            ‘Cause I’ll be riding on that freight
            Where the souls of ramblers go

And so on the final chorus of this album, we hear a repetition of the themes from the other choruses, but this time with a twist. As before, the narrator is down and out, and, as before, he voices his simple self-worth. But now, the tone has changed. The sometimes humorous, sometimes pathetic expressions of bare minimal self worth have been put aside and we are asked to view this train hopper with the simple dignity he deserves. And it is in this moment, that we see what Colter Wall may have been up to all the while—asking us to look at all people, even those whose suffering and desperation were created by their own hands, and see in them the same inviolable humanity we hope they see in us.

       ♪  I got my health, my John B. Stetson
            Got a bottle full of baby’s bluebird wine
            And I left my stash somewhere down in Preston
            Along with thirteen silver dollars and my mind

Thank you for listening to What’s This Album About? Remember to like, share, comment , and subscribe. It’ll help us a lot. Until next time, I’m Bobby Waller, reminding you to assert your self-worth, whatever it may be, and to keep your ears open, because:

the more you listen, the more you love

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