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Wall learns his lessons well

Atwood's Tavern, Cambridge, Mass., October 29, 2017

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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Knowing nothing about Colter Wall and hearing his CD, one might suspect he's old. Really old. He may sound like a raw, grizzled veteran, but, in fact, the Nashville resident by way of Saskatchewan, Canada is only 22.

Yet the country traditionalist (with a bit of blues thrown in here and there) seems to be born of a different area, something that he may have made clear from the opening songs.

Instead of playing only his own material, Wall played solo acoustic with a few covers, something that might be typically be sprinkled later in the set or else at the end. Nope. Wall may have intended to make it clear where he stood immediately with such songs as Woody Guthrie's "Do Re Mi."

Wall, whose voice sounds like he's smoked a few too many cigarettes, surely put his heart and soul into the songs - whether his own or songs he loved. He has said that the songs on his full-length debut, which was produced by white-hot Dave Cobb, had an autobiographical ring to them. One got the sense that songs about failed relationships like "You Look to Yours" sounded authentic. He also referenced his homeland on several songs and spoke of the beauty of his native province.

Wall eventually was helped by a backing trio, including fiddle/mandolin player Anna Blanton and drummer/Dobroist/acoustic guitarist backing vocalist John Clay. While Wall sounded just fine on his own, the band brought a different, more fleshed out vibe, more of a honky tonk sound at times.

For someone so young, Wall knows a thing or two about songwriting with such songs as "Thirteen Silver Dollars" about being stopped by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (true story) and the murder song "Kate McCannon." (presumably not true, at least not for Wall).

Wall later interspersed more covers, including one reference point, Townes Van Zandt ("White Freight Liner Blues" along with "Snake Mountain Blues," which Wall recorded) and Ray Wylie Hubbard ("Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother"). His own "Motorcycle" was connected to a B-side Arlo Guthrie song he heard.

There was no set list on this evening, more like Wall playing songs that turned his fancy. Wall was well grounded in country roots. He may be a young 'un, but he certainly has learned his lessons.

The Local Honeys, a duo comprised of Kentucky natives Linda Jean Stokley and Montana Hobbs, fit in well with the headliner, although a different musical style. Steeped in old time music at the start, they ventured into bluegrass and a bit of country in a set that grew better and stronger over time.

Stokley, who played fiddle, handled most of the vocals with Hobbs on banjo and backing vocals. They varied their sound at just the right time to spread their musical wings. And despite being from Kentucky, they were certainly not afraid to go against the grain with Stokley's Cigarette Trees," an anti-strip mining song, which won the MerleFest Chris Austin Songwriting Award this year for bluegrass. The Local Honeys were a welcome addition to an evening of excellent music.