Canadian singer-songwriter Colter Wall has yet again released another riveting original from his new album, Songs of the Plains. Much like the previously shared songs “Plain to See Plainsman” and “Calgary Round-Up,” “Saskatchewan in 1881” follows suit in Wall’s western influence and earnest high plains demeanor.
Where “Plains to See Plainsman” found Wall yearning for home while out on the road, “Saskatchewan in 1881” finds him pining for his homeland in another sense. Here, he’s looking to keep what’s his simple, pure and uncorrupt. In essence, it’s a fingerpicking blue-collar blues number. His deep baritone grizzle echoes out with a commanding presence. It’s demanding and as serious as that .44 revolver he keeps threatening to produce.
“Saskatchewan in 1881” is perhaps the most interesting song we’ve seen from Wall in his young career. He’s most certainly entrenched in Canadian, cowboy and western culture—which, in some sense, may as well all be the same. There’s a romanticism in Wall’s style of writing that owes a debt of gratitude those Canadian songwriters before him. But it’s more than just nods to the past in “Saskatchewan in 1881,” even if we’re to believe the time and setting is a good 100+ years in the past.
Wall’s acknowledged that he’s rearranged some chords from legendary musician Doc Watson on the blistering sparse and cold “Saskatchewan in 1881.” He winks at Guy Clark (among others) with lines like “I’ve been livin’ off of ice-cold rainbow stew.” The jury’s still out on how it relates to Radney Foster‘s “Texas in 1880.”
That’s fine and mighty. But what makes “Saskatchewan in 1881” is his endearing love and uncompromising attitude. It may as well be “Saskatchewan in 1981” or “Saskatchewan in 2081.” It doesn’t matter. He’d still be producing that .44 revolver to ensure its’ purity.
“Mr. Toronto man, go away from my door. You’ve got my wheat and canola seed, you’re asking me for more,” Wall sings. He continues on with plainspoken proclamations about being “just a prairie boy.” He sprinkles in specific details such as working on the Martin’s Farm—presumably based on the real Martin’s Farm located in central Saskatchewan. You hear his hardened and calloused hands rake across one another showing he has nothing else to offer the slick East Coast big-timer. It’s those unassuming details that give Wall’s latest a vivid feel and quality.
He may be romanticizing a specific region, much like Jason Isbell‘s New American South, Turnpike Troubadours‘ rural Oklahoma and Tyler Childers‘ Kentucky backwoods, but he’s also giving us a healthy amount of rich details that firmly root us in reality. Much like the Isbells, Felkers and Childers, Wall is candidly honest. There’s only so many ways to make growing up poor and starving chic. That cold dog soup gets old rather quick.
Wall is unabashedly fervent for his unconditional love for his homeland. It’s a beautiful balance. There’s a similar sentiment echoed by contemporaries such as Red Shahan (“Culberson County”), Margo Price (“Hands of Time”) and Ryan Culwell (“The Last American”). There’s a white-knuckle grip on what’s yours while cautiously sharing it with the world. It’s being wholeheartedly proud and objectively genuine.
“Songs of the Plains is an unapologetically Western record. As a westerner, I’m proud to say that,” Wall recently said in an Instagram post. It most certainly is that. Still, Wall’s intent and message resonate regardless of where you’re from.
Wall once again was joined by Dave Cobb at the producing helm and recorded Songs of the Plains at Nashville’s RCA Studio A. Along with his own acoustic guitar picking, Wall was joined by a top-notch skeleton crew of drummer Chris Powell and bassist Jason Simpson. Legendary musicians Mickey Raphael (harmonica) and Lloyd Green (pedal steel) come in for timely train howls and cinematic brush strokes. Fellow Canadian troubadours Blake Berglund and Corb Lund also make cameos on the album.
Wall’s Songs of the Plains will be released Oct. 12 on Young Mary’s Record Co. via Thirty Tigers. It is currently available for preorder here. Wall is currently on the road with tour dates that take him throughout the United States and Canada through the remainder of the year. For more details on Wall’s tour schedule, click here.
Songs of the Plains Track List:
1. “Plain to See Plainsman”
2. “Saskatchewan In 1881”
3. “John Beyers (Camaro Song)”
4. “Wild Dogs”
5. “Calgary Round-Up”
6. “Night Herding Song”
7. “Wild Bill Hickok”
8. “The Trains are Gone”
9. “Thinkin’ on a Woman”
10. “Manitoba Man”
11. “Tying Knots in the Devil’s Tail”