Album Review – Joshua Ray Walker – “I Opened for the Killers”

Dallas-based singer and songwriter Joshua Ray Walker set one hell of a foundation from which to build his career from with his first three albums. A conceptualized trilogy where each song represents a character one might encounter in a bar or honky tonk, Wish You Were Here (2019), Glad You Made It (2020), and See You Next Time (2021) made for some of the best singer/songwriter country in the last few years, including Saving Country Music’s 2020 Song of the Year, “Voices.”

Earlier this year, Walker released a new album called What Is It Even?, which is a collection of cover songs originally sung by women. It was something fun to do that also showed of Walker’s incredible singing range before diving into the next era of his career, wherever that takes him. Where his career has been taking him lately is getting some rather incredible opportunities opening for some major bands. This included The Killers in Reno, NV on September 18th and 19th at the Grand Sierra Resort.

After the first night of the gig, Joshua Ray Walker started experiencing excruciating stomach pain. He spent the whole next day in his hotel room with the shades drawn thinking he was going to die, but battled through it to perform on the second night as well. Afterwards, Walker was rushed to the hospital where it was confirmed that his appendix had ruptured. He would spend the next five days in the hospital receiving treatment.

It happens to be that on this second night as Walker was suffering though tremendous pain, the performance was recorded. This has resulted in I Opened For The Killers And All I Got Was Appendicitis, which you can add to the list of completely unexpected but killer live releases from important independent country artists in 2023.

Those who’ve seen Joshua Ray Walker perform live recently can attest that it’s a lights out show. Not only does Walker have one of the greatest falsetto voices and yodels in country music at the moment, he’s got stellar songs to go along with it. But what has really sent the Joshua Ray live show to the next level over the last few years is the inclusion of steel guitar player Adam “Ditch” Kurtz, previously of American Aquarium, Sarah Shook, and other outfits.

Whether it’s ambient stuff during Walker’s slow songs, or blazing leads during the more up-tempo stuff, Adam Kurtz’s acrobatics set everything off. Joshua Ray Walker is no slouch guitar player himself, and has played lead in other bands. This allows a sleek four-piece touring outfit to sounds like a seven-piece honky tonk ensemble. This also includes Trey Pendergrass on drums and Billy Bones on bass.

The new Live EP is a great capturing of what feels like an important era in an important career. A couple of the opening moments get a little sloppy. But they’re settled in by the time they get to songs like “Lot Lizard,” “Three Strikes,” and the aforementioned “Voices.” “Three Strikes” finds Ditch Kurtz fitting more notes into phrases than should be humanly possible, while “Voices” is an incredible testament to Joshua Ray Walker’s talents.

Something else that’s great about this Live EP is it includes all of Walker’s “hits” so to speak, so if this is your first time listening to him, it’s a great example of his songwriting, musicianship, and vocal range. It is a live album, so the mix isn’t perfect. The drums and steel guitar may be a little too loud, and Joshua Ray Walker a little quiet. But you’ve probably heard much worse when it comes to live mixes.

Often in the live context, some of the most memorable moments are when adversity presents itself in one form or another, whether it be an illness, inclement weather, an automobile accident or the like. Perseverance through that adversity makes you appreciate those moments even more. The fact that Joshua Ray Walker was suffering through excruciating pain when this EP was put down speaks to his dedication to his craft, and the power of his talents.


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