Tickets for this Celtic Connections show sold out almost as soon as the gig was announced with both artists noted as the up and coming guys to watch. Wall’s debut album was helmed by the current in vogue producer Dave Cobb while Childers’ debut is produced by a man who has benefitted from Cobb’s studio craftwork, Sturgill Simpson. With both men playing solo sets it was instructive to see their very different approaches to country and folk music and while Wall was the headliner it was Childers who folk were talking about afterwards.
A real livewire, Childers sat on stage curled over his guitar like a spring waiting to snap, his introductions and tales, coloured with his Kentucky accent, snappy and enthusiastic. He opened with a tremendous version of Willie Nelson’s ‘Time Of The Preacher’ before zipping through several songs from Purgatory along with a few new ones and the excellent ‘Bible And A Bottle’ from the album of the same name. He’d done his homework, substituting the UK bogie for booger on ‘Snipe Hunt’, a great song about being picked on, a Snipe Hunt being an American term for a practical joke. He explained the genesis of ‘Purgatory’ as coming from dating a Catholic girl who explained the concept to him and, as a Baptist bound to paradise or damnation, he found this in-between space intriguing. ‘Banded Clovis’, a murder ballad which sounded as old as the hills, showed off his fine guitar picking while ‘Whitehouse Road’, despite its similarities to Steve Earle’s Copperhead Road, was a fine grim tale of a moonshine whisky and cocaine raddled outlaw born to raise hell. His all too short support slot ended with ‘Lady May’, a delicate love song which was enhanced immensely by his guitar playing. His careworn words, ” Now I ain’t the sharpest chisel That your hands have ever held But darlin’ I could love you well,” conveying a front porch sense of romance while his guitar added hints of Dixie and at the very end a brief snippet of Wildwood Flower. Despite calls for an encore it was time for the main act but Childers had a lasting impression, his hillbilly country sound irresistible and hopefully he’ll be back soon.
Colter Wall is from different stock. Canadian, raised in the Saskatchewan prairies, he seems to have found his muse in the music of Greenwich Village and the singer songwriters of the 70s. Folky, rambling like Jack and Woody at times as evidenced by ‘Codeine Dream‘ while he sang Guthrie’s ‘Do Re Mi’, ‘Railroad Bill’ as popularised by Elliott and on ‘Bicycle’ admitted that it was influenced by Arlo Guthrie’s’ Motorcycle Song. Much has been made of Wall’s voice, a deep baritone which makes him sound far older than his years, however for much of the show it never varied and the end result was somewhat monotonous. Having said that some of the songs were very impressive. ‘The Devil Wears A Suit and Tie’, based on the Robert Johnson legend, was given a more fluent delivery than the recorded version and ‘Kate McCannon’ was an excellent murder ballad, spooky and very suited to his dark stained voice.
The set was peppered with several other covers, Townes Van Zandt’s ‘Snake Mountain Blues’, ‘The Wabash Cannonball’ and an encore of ‘Goodnight Irene’ while his own ‘Caroline’ sounded like an update of Big Rock Candy Mountain as sung by Van Zandt. Meanwhile, ‘Sleeping On The Blacktop’, the last song of the set, seemed to borrow some of its riff from Neil Young’s Ohio. While many of his songs were greeted enthusiastically by the crowd who shouted several requests throughout the show, most of them not played, Wall came across as an artist just starting to outgrow his influences, possessed of a singular voice but yet to find his own.