Back in the day, before it was pruned, the genre was called “Country and Western music.” But cowboy songs and border narratives have always been essential to its roots, not to mention sartorial sense. Colter Wall actually hails from Saskatchewan, in Western Canada. With production help from period-conjurer Dave Cobb, he soaks his mighty baritone in reverb to reclaim a style once hugely popular — think Marty Robbins’ “El Paso” and Gene Autry’s “Ghost Riders in the Sky” — but has largely been left behind for vultures.
The set walks a fine line with its retro-fetishism, but it manages to dodge hokey-ness thanks to Wall’s great voice, a low-key delivery, and invitingly haunted backdrops by legends like Lloyd Green (pedal steel) and Mickey Raphael (harmonica). Time-traveling lyrics help, too – see the druggie drifter tale “Manitoba Man” and “John Beyers (Camaro Song),” which swaps the horse for a Chevy. Elsewhere, “Calgary Round-Up” proves the music legit in the context of Canadian tradition while letting Wall flex his soulful yodel. “Wild Dogs” is a surprisingly sexy narrative imagined from the POV of the same. And best may be the traditional “Tying Knots in the Devil’s Tail,” a fast-strummed campfire drinking song about two cowboys who get hammered, then rope and brand Satan. That you might imagine a few other North American characters who deserve that treatment right about now makes it all the more satisfying.