If Joshua Ray Walker could do whatever he wanted, his solo shows would be just that: a solo.
There would be no group that would accompany him with his acoustic guitar. The audience’s jokes between songs would be short enough to distract them from the jitters. There would certainly be no recall.
The country musician usually keeps it simple because he can. His fingering is excellent and his voice is supernatural.
Why turn away from it when his falsetto alone surely caused Spotify searches in the middle of the show as it opened up to bigger artists?
But such a stripped-down performance was not an option for Walker’s concert at the Granada Theater last Friday. It was an album release show for her third project, See you next time, a record that could very well take him to another level of glory.
Hailing from the Casa Linda neighborhood in East Dallas, the 30-year-old has been performing all over Dallas since the age of 13, mostly in smaller venues or in the nooks and crannies of dive bars. Critical reception of his first album, wish you were Here, called him a Dallas musician to watch, and his second outing, Glad you did, extended this claim to all of Texas. But they were released the year before a pandemic and in the middle of the lockdown, respectively with little means for Walker to capitalize on his impressed critics. Its third outing has arrived with legitimate anticipation from real fans and will be accompanied by a nationwide tour.
The Granada spectacle was to be an event. And so it was that Walker walked confidently on stage, wearing a cowboy hat and a blue blazer trimmed near the collar of yellow roses and a black lapel. Already there, awaited him a bassist, a drummer, a pedal steel guitarist and an electric guitarist. He went through a list of songs that audience members would call out in their first riffs, as if his catalog was a playlist of the greatest hits. Throughout the night, they indulged in each of her perfectly synchronized vocal flourishes with cheers in the middle of the song.
Joshua Ray Walker isn’t quite a star yet, except maybe in Dallas, the place he’s lived all his life and the city with the largest collection of people who are more or less certain that, s ‘there is still or never justice in the music industry, it will be very soon. If Friday’s show was proof of anything, it’s that he’s ready to play the part.
“I see a lot of faces of people who have supported me for years,” Walker said before playing “Fondly,” the first song he ever wrote.
It was a good description of the crowd; Dallas musicians who really know him but mostly fans who just feel like they do it through his music. Walker hasn’t performed in many venues that would be considered big, let alone headlining, but you could easily fill the American Airlines Center with people who saw him perform in dive bars, cafes and tiny venues all over Dallas during his career.
Walker first caused a stir in 2012 when he became lead guitarist for Dallas’ group The Ottoman Turks, led by his childhood friend Nathan Wells. A loud country-rock band whose performances could provide the most catchy soundtrack possible to an East Dallas bar brawl (an vibe that is immediately betrayed by spending time with them after a show and discovering that the four are comically nice people who might have a hard time hanging up on a telemarketer). The group allowed Walker to show off his electric guitar skills, the instrument seemingly small draped over his tall stature. He usually stays still during the Ottoman Turks’ performances while Wells puts the energy of a marathon into his performance and the bar sells a lot of beer.
But Walker also wrote his own character-driven songs – clever, funny, layered, and devastating songs – and played them on weekdays wherever he could. Eventually, with the help of Dallas producer John Pedigo, he signed with State Fair Records and recorded a debut album in 2019 (The label signed a separate deal with the Ottoman Turks later in the year).
The day after the Granada show, Walker performed at the State Fair in the Red River shootout between Texas and Oklahoma. Instead of playing on the main stage at the fair, Walker’s label strategically placed him on a smaller stage, just off the steps to enter the Cotton Bowl, where the foot traffic of thousands of rowdy people would pass. or not. For some it would be a nightmare scene, your music drowned out by the scene.
But Walker’s voice is really so startling. It causes a pause whatever the intentions, drunkenness or musical propensity. That he sent new fans back to Austin and Norman was a safer bet than the point spread over the game.
For the Granada audience 15 hours earlier, this voice was its own kind of intoxicating, sweet and surprisingly wide voice, even for those who have heard it before. As he sang “When you’re gone and I’m waiting I’ll be useful, I’ll make you proud” from the song “Lot Lizard” about two long haul truckers, he had the crowd in a kind of hypnotic state. , apparently aware that his voice was about to go up another octave to sing “save my soul”.
Predicting which artists will have national success – getting on the radio, making songs on the charts, collecting millions of streams – is an exercise for bullshit or people who don’t want to admit their fingers are on the scales. If Walker is at a crossroads with greater success, his Granada show is less of an indicator he’s going to drill down and more of a statement that he’s ready for it. It was hard to leave the room without talking about Walker’s future, but the night was really about his past. He has played nearly a thousand concerts in Dallas in his life. He has already fought to obtain a residence in a now closed TGI Friday’s. More people than Granada might have seen him perform one of his countless shows just down from Lower Greenville at Single Wide, which is smaller than the lobby at Granada. Friday’s show was the culmination of it all.
To some, Walker and his music have a certain reputation (which is not entirely due to a profile I wrote about him for Texas monthly). This would suggest that he is a brooding musician who makes brooding “authentic” music suited to people who talk about their record collections more than they listen to them. But to whatever degree it represents the characters that make up the darkest corners of Dallas – the low lives, the schemers pretending to be big guys, the big rollers pretending to be cowboys, people of any group. demographic who will feel a jolt of loneliness the moment the bar closes, its audience is having fun at its shows. Walker’s characters can bring a lot of baggage to the party, but they always show up at the party. It’s a quality as authentic as anything else in his music.
“Sexy After Dark”, the first single from See you next time, is such a bombastic hymn. The most danceable song in his catalog, it’s a clear statement that he’s more than a guy with a guitar and a stool and a few sad songs (which he doesn’t miss in Dallas and is practically his own demographic in Austin). Walker’s penultimate song on Friday was a terribly sad song called “Flash Paper.” But he only let the last lines of the song linger for a few seconds.
Then the lights got a little brighter. The steel of the pedal exploded triumphantly, and as Walker’s voice filled the room with “I feel sexy after dark.” My conscience struggles to see “Various members of Walker’s circle took the stage to dance to an extended version of the song, led front and center by Wells of the Ottoman Turks, who for years carried this energy leader for Walker as he built his own confidence and stage presence.
Without an instrument or microphone, Wells danced with a sort of wacky confidence that only a local rockstar can achieve. Walker did not get up from his stool. He was sitting there, in his colorful blazer, smiling and singing in front of a crowd that had already followed Wells’ signal.
By the end of the song, he had played over an hour of music for his friends. In his city. After the show, when he was done meeting fans and signing autographs, he met the rest of the Ottoman Turks at Lakewood Landing.