Album Review – Joshua Ray Walker’s “See You Next Time”

Across the first three albums of proud Dallas, TX native Joshua Ray Walker’s country music career, he’s distinguished himself as a songwriter, and for having one of the cleanest yodels and falsettos in the business. Both of these distinguishing characteristics ultimately conjoined to earn Walker the Saving Country Music 2020 Song of the Year for the track “Voices.”

We knew this guy was one of the most promising talents coming up in independent country. What many of us didn’t know as the early moments of Joshua Ray’s career were unfolding was that he was quietly composing a trilogy of albums all inspired by the cast of characters one might meet in a honky tonk, exploring their stories in snapshots of life that became the inspiration for his songs.

You can reflect back now on his first album Wish You Were Here, his second Glad You Made It, and now the final installment See You Next Time, and it all makes much more sense. This dude had it planned out the entire time. And here at the ending, we’re all experiencing one of those “oh wow!” moments like at the conclusion of a 90’s David Fincher flick.

Joshua Ray Walker had a few of us worried when he released what’s probably this new album’s most adventurous track first—that being the horn-blasting and Stax-inspired “Sexy After Dark.” “Oh great,” we thought, “he’s fleeing from country like so many of our favorite artists seem to do just as their career starts to take off.” But 10 seconds into this final installment of Joshua Ray’s album trilogy, your fears are quelled as the honky tonk goodness flows, and “Sexy After Dark” is revealed as just one part of what is a fetchingly diverse and sometimes feisty country record that might be Joshua Ray’s most enjoyable to listen to yet.

As soon as the fiddle melody hits your ears on the very first song “Dallas Lights,” you feel as at home as Joshua Ray Walker does under Big D’s truly splendid urban skyline. The next two songs “Three Strikes” and the well-written “Cowboy” are exactly what you want and expect from a Joshua Ray Walker record. Then you get Walker’s excellent attempt at a sequel to his SCM Song of the Year-winning “Voices” in the resplendent “Flash Paper.”

But “Flash Paper” and a few other moments on See You Next Time suffer a bit from some sound issues. I’m not sure it’s even production or arrangement, or more just mixing and mastering. “Flash Paper” employs a crunchy, overdriven electric guitar tone droning persistently in the background. The idea might have been to create some ambience or space on the track. But the way it’s mixed distracts from the beauty of the composition and performances from Joshua, and steel guitarist Adam “Ditch” Kurtz. The next song “Fossil Fuel” is a badass little trucker tune that reminds you of Walker’s side project Ottoman Turks. But the drums are so muffled sounding, it takes something away from the track.

You hate to penalize what’s a strong effort from Joshua Ray Walker due to some post production issues, and you probably shouldn’t. “Gas Station Roses” and “Welfare Chet” add two more interesting characters to the Joshua Ray Walker universe of barroom archetypes, and then he completes the circle of this 3-part treatise with the singalong “See You Next Time” whose lyrics cycle through the three titles of the three Joshua Ray Walker albums.

We love to talk about the songs of conceptualized records or “song cycle” albums as being stronger than the sum of their parts due to the storytelling aspect of the approach and the more immersive listening experience. Similarly, See You Next Time completing the cycle really does makes the effort of Joshua Ray Walker’s three debut albums feel even more resonant. Some of the songs on this previous albums like “Working Girl” and “Boat Show Girl” make a bit more sense putting them into context.

See You Next Time and the suite of albums Joshua Ray Walker has released to launch his career have created a pretty incredible foundation for him to build from. Some artists struggle their entire career to turn in as many great songs as Joshua Ray Walker has in what is still a burgeoning legacy, and now we get to see where he goes from here.

When you think of music from Texas, you think of Austin, or Fort Worth, or even Lubbock first, while Dallas is known for a football team and cover bands. But Joshua Ray Walker is helping to change that with a troika of albums that have put him at or near the top of today’s independent country performers saving country music.

1 3/4 Guns Up (8/10)

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