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Colter Wall at the Calgary Stampede on July 9, 2018.Jen Osborne / The Globe and Mail/For The Globe and Mail

Colter Wall, the young Saskatchewan troubadour who made a much-appreciated appearance at the Opera House in Toronto on Saturday evening, is the new darling of the yippee-ki-yay people. He calls himself a folk singer, which is what he is. More specifically, he distinguishes himself as a presenter of western cowboy music, some of which he writes himself and some of which he borrows from others.

What’s his deal? How has this Swift Current-bred balladeer resonated so deeply with audiences with a style of music so long out of fashion? Could be his aw-shucks demeanor, his bone-comforting baritone or his crackling-fire romanticism of the Old West. But the bigger answer regarding his appeal was apparent by the end of his set: Wall represents the psyche of the rural Canadian, whose homespun lifestyle, some might say, is threatened by modern times and economic realities. When he sings about little doggies on the traditional song Old Paint, Wall offers a lament, a longing for home and a paying of respect for something perceived to be disappearing before our eyes:

When I die, take my saddle from the wall

Place it on my pony, lead him out of his stall

Tie my bones to his back, turn our faces to the West

And we'll ride the prairie that we love the best

Speaking to The Globe and Mail recently, Steve Earle praised Wall effusively. “His songs are stunning,” said the outlaw-country icon. “He’s been listening to the right stuff, and he gets it.”

Judging by his set list and his between-song banter, Wall listens to Wilf Carter, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Marty Robbins, Arlo Guthrie, Doc Watson and Townes Van Zandt. His reverence for the western-narrative style of Guy Clark and Canadians Ian Tyson and Corb Lund is undisguised.

On Saturday, in front of an audience of burly dudes, blue-jean-clad women and scattered representatives of Stetson nation, he sang about marital homicide, muscle cars, silver dollars and Wild Bill Hickok. Saskatchewan in 1881 comes from his new album Songs of the Plains, which he described as a “collection of songs about home.”

Sometimes solo and sometimes with a four-piece band that included a steel-guitar player and a lonesome-blowing harmonicist, Wall alternated between honky-tonk revelry and stoic balladry. His throat covered by an unassuming red beard, Wall’s smooth croon rumbled with a levelheaded authority designed to calm horses and soothe trouble-minded humans.

On You Look to Yours, Wall, the son of former Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, advised his listeners to “go about your earthly mission, don't trust no politicians.”

Late in his set he offered Plain to See Plainsman, a strummed elegy and wistful anthem for the self-apparent Prairie kind. “This plain-to-see plainsman is longin' for home,” he sang. “Let me die in the country that I love the most.”

Though he uses the first-person singular, Wall’s music addresses the collective, not the personal. His country is cow country; he’s the new saviour-sheriff in town, entrusted to keep the mythology alive. Somebody give his horse some water. Wall’s got a long road ahead of him.

Colter Wall plays Vancouver’s Commodore Ballroom on Jan. 19, 2019. ​

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