Wish You Were Here
State Fair Records
The arrival of a new year puts us all in a reflective mood, but 2019 seems more than averagely uncertain. It’s only natural to feel some anxiety, hopefully mixed with eager anticipation, when the storm clouds are gathering. Here, at Whiskey Preachin, the new year turns our thoughts to the treasures that await us, the sounds that will flip our wigs and the grooves that will define our good times for the next twelve months. How long will it be before the first big album of the new year hits our speakers and fills our hearts. Well, not long at all, it turns out.
The year had hardly got under way when this beauty of an album came a’knocking. I’d been looking forward to hearing more from Joshua Ray Walker since playing the first single, Working Girl, from his up-coming debut album, Wish You Were Here, on the WP radio Show back in September (www.whiskeypreachin.com/radio). The song shows up as the third track on the album, a bopping slice of 21st century country rock that manages to put an infectious groove and a jaunty attitude to the story of a young woman who has found it necessary to do “what she gotta do to get by”. Appetite whetted, I was keen to get stuck into the full meal.
Wish You Were Here is an album that might usually be expected from an artist with something of a back catalogue to stand on, rather than an opening gambit. The truth of the matter is that Joshua Ray Walker has been honing these songs for the last decade, only now delivering them to the wider world. Worth the wait? Most definitely, yes. Walker’s story telling is first-rate, gifting emotionally articulate songs penned by a craftsman and delivered with a voice that mesmerises the listener. Listen to the purity and clarity of Walker’s delivery on Lot Lizard, the latest single to be pulled from the album, the way his voice flips to the higher register so effortlessly. This is a performer who has spent serious time perfecting his art, his writing and his performance. Pure class.
I asked Joshua Ray Walker about his songs, his band and why he called the album Wish You Were Here.
There is already an album called Wish You Were Here. Why did you decide to use this title for your album?
I wanted to find a title that summed up the songs on the album, not just my name, a song title, or a lyric from one of the songs on the record. While brainstorming, the phrase 'Wish You Were Here' popped into my head, with no relation to Pink Floyd. The songs on this record deal with being disconnected from someone or something, so 'Wish You Were Here' just made sense to me.
Who is playing on the rest of the album? Is this your band, friends, people you have played with for years?
Drums - Trey Pendergrass: Trey has been a part of the music scene in Dallas for decades, but this was our first time working together. He was brought in by my producer John Pedigo. Tery was amazing to watch in the studio.
Bass - Billy Bones: Billy and I co-hosted a songwriter night in Dallas back in 2012 where I sang and played my original songs to people for the first time. Billy is an incredible songwriter and Bass player.
Rhythm Electric Guitar - Nathan Mongol Wells: Nathan and I have known each other since middle school, and I've played lead guitar for his band Ottoman Turks since 2012. Nathan is one of my best friends, and I think you can tell how much time we've spent playing together, based on how our guitar parts blend together on the record.
Producer - John Pedigo: John Pedigo produced the record and I can't imagine working with anyone else now. He also played banjo on the record and brought in other staples of the Dallas music scene for auxiliary lead, such as Accordion player Ginny Mac, Pedal Steel from Ward Williams, Organ by Chad Stockslager and Keys and Trumpet by Cory Graves. There is also an appearance by the talented songwriter Van Darien singing a duet with me on the track "Keep". The bulk of the tracking took place at Audio Dallas, where Willie Nelson recorded 'Red Headed Stranger'.
It’s an accomplished set of songs for a debut album. I have seen you quoted as saying you are glad that you got to do this record now, rather than earlier in your career. How many of these songs were written recently, or for this album? Which of these songs have been with you the longest?
Thank you. The oldest song on the album is Fondly, written in 2009. It’s the first song I ever finished. Last Call, written in 2012, is probably the song I've played the most. All the other songs trickled in between then and now. "Love Songs" was finished in the studio, so this record really is a selection that spans almost a decade of writing.
Who would you say is your biggest influence?
I have lots of influences but have never fixated on one for too long. I would say my grandfather, Ray Cheek, was my biggest influence because he introduced me to a lot of good music at a young age, encouraging me to play the instruments that were laying around the house.
When asked, I wasn’t surprised by the list of artists, old and new, that Walker listed as among his listening, a list that included Roy Orbison, Dwight Yoakam, Vince Gill, Jerry Reed & Chet Atkins, Foggy Mountain Boys, Jack White, Guy Clark, Billy Joe Shaver and Sam Baker, as well as Colter Wall, Tyler Childers, John Moreland and Paul Cauthen. He’s also enjoying the new Vandoliers single. If you’re reading this and like any of these artists, you need to listen to Joshua Ray Walker.
Walker’s empathy with his characters allows him to mine emotional depths through his song writing. Embellishing his protagonists’ experiences allows him to explore their situations, as well as feelings that he may share. In Walkers own words, “If it’s by poor decisions or circumstances beyond their control, I find inspiration from the downtrodden and destitute. I see myself in these characters. I use these characters to explore things about myself in songs I’d otherwise be too self-conscious to write about”.
2018 was a great year for new music, and especially so for the type we like to play here at Whiskey Preachin. My cynical side can’t help but wonder how long we can live in this sunny upland before the magic starts to bleed away, the productions get more bloated, the cocaine takes hold of the song-writing talent and the stock of albums that make the grade starts to dwindle. I had been pondering this in the first week of January, hoping that I wouldn’t come to lament the passing of 2018, struck by some sick nostalgia for the music it brought us. Then Wish You Were Here turned up, gave me a big hug and made everything all right. 2019’s not the year I need to worry about. Not yet, at least.