Colter Wall is Saving Country Music’s 2020 Artist of the Year

photo: Brad Coolidge

The Saving Country Music Artist of the Year award is not exclusively about the music. Most certainly it helps if the performer to be awarded released something new in a given year, and that it was remarkable enough to highlight and emphasize itself, similar to what Saskatchewan, Canada-native Colter Wall did in 2020 with his latest album Western Swing & Waltzes, and other Punchy Songs.

But the Artist of the Year award is more about the cultural impact an individual artist or group had on country music over the last 12 months—the influence they sowed, and the leadership they exuded in the effort to preserve, champion, and pay forward the roots of country music. In 2020, there were many artists who shouldered that burden and did admirable work towards that end. But arguably nobody did more in the direction of that charge than Colter Wall.

Taking some of the most arcane and overlooked entries into the North American songbook, penning songs inspired by such compositions, and singing them with such passion and conviction that the appeal for them far surpasses the otherwise niche audience for such music by not just revitalizing the art form, but making it cool for the wider public where even people like Joe Rogan are singing his praises, this is all a testament to the power and importance of Colter Wall.

It’s been said here before, but how blessed and lucky country and Western music is to have Colter choose to ply his craft within its borders with the one-in-a-million voice he possesses, and to be so dedicated in that pursuit. How common is it when true country fans advocate for the roots of the music to be more pronounced, they’re told nobody wants to listen to old songs, or “Grandpa’s music,” as Blake Shelton once famously said? The appeal of Colter Wall, and specifically watching it infect younger fans illustrates how foolish that notion is.

And Colter Wall is only 25-years-old himself, which makes the prospects of what he could develop into in the future so exciting, while in 2020 he also showed a propensity to continue to grow and mature by singing in a more natural voice, and being honest about how he embellished his voice in previous works to Western Swing & Waltzes. Where Colter Wall started out as sort of a punk country kid playing a bass drum with his boot heel and emulating Johnny Cash, he’s now morphed into the modern day King of Cowboy and Western music.

Colter Wall also does this work in such an honest, and understated manner. He lets the music speak for itself. He’s not out there dropping quote bombs on pop country trying to rile up the press, or peddling himself on social media as some proprietor of moral superiority. He posts photos of himself out on the ranch, and snippets of performances in old cabins and bunkhouses. He lives what he sings, and sings what he lives. His appeal is natural, and his approach is authentic.

If there was a runner up for Artist of the Year in 2020, it would be Texas songwriter Charley Crockett, who many similar things could be said about. Championing music that ranges from classic country, to boogie-woogie and blues, and revitalizing it with his career, Crockett is also a leader in the younger, spirited, dedicated crop of artists making authentic roots music right, and paying it forward in time by instilling it with a cool factor difficult to quantify, but critical for creating the kind of appeal in needs to remain relevant moving forward.

But 2020 was the year of Colter Wall. It’s the year he found his true voice and calling as a Cowboy and Western artist, and made a career out of saving the old songs and old modes of traditional folk and cowboy music, not by infusing them with new styles, but by proving the music’s immortal appeal in the hands of the right person to present it to the world. Colter Wall is that right person.

© 2021 Saving Country Music
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