Eschewing the hipness of east Nashville and Austin to instead walk the culture hungry streets of Dallas, Texas, Joshua Ray Walker is a big man with a high lonesome voice and heartfelt songs who is quickly rising up the independent country music depth charts. A songwriter and honky-tonker with a head full of words and a heart full of blues, his musings, yodels, and moans are featured on his second record called Glad You Made It that just might mark the breakout point for his young career.
Walker wastes no time going to work on your emotional receptors in the new record, starting it off with the tale of a man making the choice to roll his truck into the lake instead of struggling to keep on living, polishing off a bottle as he does to “make it look like a mistake.” This is the kind of mercilessness Joshua Ray Walker shows to jerk those tears out like only the finest country music can.
Country music is what you will find on Glad You Made It, and in ample doses, including full-throttle and wide open chicken pickin’ hoedowns like you get with “Bronco Billy’s” featuring the hot steel guitar of Adam Kurtz, and then the fiddle, dobro, and acoustic guitar interplay of “Play You A Song.” But to shake it up, Joshua Ray interjects some serious rock in songs as well, first appearing through the Mark Knopfler tones of “Cupboard,” and then on the final song, the fire-breathing “D.B. Cooper.” Horns even make an appearance on a couple of tracks for extra flavor.
Joshua Ray Walker’s yodel and high range mark a highlight of the record, including on the opening song “Voices” with it’s rather impressive elongated bridge, in the more Cajun cadences of “True Love,” and in the more lonesome moments of “Loving County.” After what Charlie Robison did a few years back toasting what’s regarded as the most lonesome county in the lower 48, you better be up to the task of doing right by the subject matter, and Joshua Ray’s clean and confident yodel definitely is.
But this isn’t just a record of sounds, it’s a record of words. Most Joshua Ray Walker fans would regard him as a songwriter first, and Glad You Made It adds to that reputation. But unlike some moments of his debut, the entertainment value of the music is not always a secondary concern, and sometimes the genius of the writing is more subtle. “User” is a deft tune, smartly characterizing the moments and mentality that addicts fall into when they fall off the wagon—the little lies they tell themselves, and the sense of euphoria at just the notion of using again. It’s so potent, one may worry it could stimulate a relapse inadvertently.
But sometimes the words are just there to compliment the music, like in the mostly instrumental “Play You A Song.” By offering a more well-rounded listening experience, Joshua Ray Walker allows his more heartfelt and heady expressions to be heard by a wider and more receptive audience. You don’t have to throw a melancholic haymaker each track. Sometimes you can just have a little fun.
In the review for Walker’s debut record Wish You Were Here, the observation was shared, “It’s one of those albums you feel like you’ll be looking back on years from now as a grand and auspicious start … You hear how he’s got his best days ahead of him, and he’s an artist you’ll be enjoying a decade from now. He’s a ruby in the rough.”
Glad You Made It still includes moments and decisions that feel like Joshua Ray Walker is still figuring out who he is. He’s country, but he can be lured to distinctly rock expressions for the right song. He’s a songwriter, but sometimes he just wants to let loose. But overall, this record feels a bit more well-rounded. The promise you heard on the first record begins to feel fulfilled on this second one. He’s learned how better to write to his vocal and thematic strengths, and he’s finding out what he has to contribute that is unique to music.
Making use of writing and singing skills that are uncommon and compelling, Joshua Ray Walker’s Glad You Made It is worthy of making room for in your listening rotation.
1 3/4 Guns Up (8/10)
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Purchase from State Fair Records
Purcahse from Amazon