Joshua Ray Walker has distinguished himself as a songwriter and one of the cleanest yodels and falsets in the business on the first three albums of proud Dallas, TX's country career. These two differentiators ultimately combined 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 in an independent country. What many of us didn't know as the early moments of Joshua Ray's career unfolded was that he was quietly composing a trilogy of albums, all inspired by the characters you might encounter in a honky tonk and theirs Exploring stories in snapshots of life that became the inspiration for his songs.
You can now think back to 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 a lot more sense. This guy had planned it all along. And here at the end we all experience one of these "oh wow!" Moments like the end of a 90s David Fincher flick.
Joshua Ray Walker worried some of us when he first released what is probably the most adventurous track on this new album – the horn-blasting and Stax-inspired "Sexy After Dark". “Oh great,” we thought, “he's fleeing the country like so many of our favorite artists seem to be doing just as their careers are about to begin.” But ten seconds into this last part of Joshua Ray's album trilogy your fears are being suppressed, while the honky-tonk goodness flows, and "Sexy After Dark" reveals itself to be just part of an entrancingly diverse and sometimes lively country album that could be Joshua Ray is the most pleasant 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 under the truly magnificent urban skyline of Big D as Joshua Ray Walker does. The next two songs "Three Strikes" and the well-written "Cowboy" are exactly what you would expect and expect from a Joshua Ray Walker record. Then you get Walker's excellent attempt at a continuation of his SCM Song of the Year award-winning “Voices” in the shiny “Flash Paper”.
But “Flash Paper” and a few other moments on See You Next Time suffer a little from sound problems. I'm not sure if it's production or arrangement or more just mixing and mastering. "Flash Paper" uses a crisp, overdriven electric guitar sound that keeps booming in the background. The idea could have been to create an atmosphere or a space on the track. But the way it's mixed distracts from the beauty of the composition and performances of Joshua and steel guitarist Adam "Ditch" Kurtz. The next song "Fossil Fuel" is a tough little trucker song that is reminiscent of Walker's side project Ottoman Turks. But the drums sound so muffled that it takes something away from the track.
They hate to punish Joshua Ray Walker's tough effort 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 cycle of this three-part treatise with the singalong "See You Next Time", the lyrics of which run through the three tracks from the three Joshua Ray Walker albums.
We like to talk about the songs from conceptual records or “song cycle” albums being stronger than the sum of their parts because of the storytelling aspect of the approach and the more immersive listening experience. Similarly, See You Next Time completing the cycle really makes the efforts of Joshua Ray Walker's three debut albums seem even more resonant. Some of the songs on these earlier albums like “Working Girl” and “Boat Show Girl” make a little more sense to put them in context.
See You Next Time and the albums Joshua Ray Walker released to kickstart his career created a pretty incredible foundation to build on. Some artists struggle throughout their careers to bring out as many great songs as Joshua Ray Walker in a still burgeoning legacy, and now we can see where he's going from here.
When you think of Texas music, you think of Austin or Fort Worth or even Lubbock first, while Dallas is known for its football team and cover bands. But Joshua Ray Walker is helping to change that with a troika of albums that put him at or near the top of today's independent country artists saving country music.
1 3/4 arms high (8/10)
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Purchased from Joshua Ray Walker / State Fair Records
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