Texas singer-songwriter Joshua Ray Walker presents the myths we tell ourselves. Life is good. Love lasts forever. We are all heroes. And then he exposes the truth behind our shared fictions. Many of us are lonely, abused, and unhappy. True love fades over time. We are cowards when faced with problems that can’t easily be resolved. We wear our masks and put on our costumes and hope no one looks at us too closely.
Walker is more of a realist than a pessimist. He sings with a tear in his beer-stained voice about our shared destiny. He knows there’s pleasure in the pain, albeit a dark one. There’s the somber protagonist of “Voices” contemplating suicide who “didn’t know hate could feel this good”. The mechanical bull riding singer of “Bronco Billy” knows life is passing him but is happily content to drink and play cowboy. The “User” looks forward to relapsing back into addiction. Walker tells us these stories without judgment.
The instrumentation on Glad You Made It is playful, often in contrast with the lyrics. Wheeling mariachi horns, soaring strings (slide, banjo, and fiddle) and other accouterments dress up the material. Even the slow-paced clomping of “Loving County” is adorned by Walker’s yodeling to set the lonesome mood. The album was produced by fellow Dallas artist John Pedrigo and released on the Big D’s State Fair Records. Dallas isn’t Austin, as one of Walker’s character notes. While the distinctions between the music from the Lone Star state’s big cities may not be clear to outsiders, there’s something more “country and western” than “country” about this music. (This is not to say there aren’t musical exceptions to this rule, but they are the exceptions.)
That said, I first heard Walker at last year’s AmericanaFest, where his heartfelt performance blew the crowd away. His music is probably best categorized as Americana because the C&W he plays is rooted in the past rather than contemporary styles. Tracks such as “Play You a Song” and “One Trick Pony” sound like they could have been on a rural roadhouse jukebox back in the 1950s. Their quotidian concerns sound as true now as they would have back then. Walker’s insights into the human condition would be appropriate then and now.
More importantly, Walker’s songs offer empathy for its characters and display compassion for those just trying to get by. The sensitive portrait of a “Boat Show Girl” shows the dignity of a fake-tanned, bikini-clad model in five-inch heels being ogled by the men at an exposition. “You stand there on your alter Astroturf beneath your feet / Like a redneck Statue of Liberty this phrase rings out as you greet / ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses waiting on the shore’ / May you board this fiberglass vessel and not feel empty anymore.” Not only is kindness felt for the title character, but also for those in the crowd who seek salvation by purchasing a consumer item. Happiness can be bought for less than the cost of a pack of cigarettes per week.
Glad You Made It proposes that life may suck, but we are all in it together, and each of us matters (at least to ourselves). Walker doesn’t suggest any solutions to our problems. Just knowing we are not alone and laughing at our fate is wisdom enough.