Rising out of the rich musical tradition of the Texas Roadhouse is standout songwriter Joshua Ray Walker with See You Next Time, his third record in as many years, and the final installment of his acclaimed Honky-Tonk Trilogy. Beginning with 2019’s Wish You Were Here and followed up with equally lauded Glad You Made It, which landed Walker in the #5 spot on Rolling Stone’s Best Country and Americana Albums of 2020 list, See You Next Time wraps up Walker’s thoughtful and comprehensive portrait of the characters one encounters lurking around in honky-tonks and dives. “The whole idea with the trilogy was to use the honky-tonk as a setting where all these different characters could interact with each other,” Walker explains. “In my mind, this album’s taking place on the night before the bar closes forever - the songs are just me taking snapshots of that world, and all the moments that happen in it.”
In just over 90 minutes, the three records together share with us the depth of Walker’s heart and profound ability to convey characters without creating caricatures as well as write biographically. “I learned a long time ago that writing from a character’s perspective lets me examine things about myself without ever feeling too self-conscious about it,” Walker explains.
Wish You Were Here opens with “Canyon” the tune that scored him his record deal, the heart-wrenching story of losing his father to cancer. The record moves on to cover working girls, truckers, burning it all down and starting over, and what should or shouldn’t happen after last call. Opening Glad You Made It is the achingly beautiful “Voices” anchored by the line, “I might put this truck in neutral and let it roll into the lake, but first I'll finish off this bottle so it looks like a mistake.” Picking up from there, the record moves on to contemplate “True Love,” the life of the “Boat Show Girl,” and deciding maybe to go ahead and use again because, why not?
The powerful See You Next Time opens with “Dallas Lights,” an anthem for those who’d prefer to die where they lived, and the stories continue covering the perilous “Three Strikes” felony laws, imposters playing “Cowboy,” then first single then horn-driven “Sexy After Dark.” “There’s a deep history of sexy-crooner Country songs played by dudes who were pretty unsexy by all accounts but still had so much swagger,” Walker says. “‘Sexy After Dark’ was my attempt at writing a song like that, a fun song I’d want to crank up and party to. It all came back to wanting to really push the boundaries of what I could do on this album.”
Second single, the tender and heartbreaking “Flash Paper” arrives next, one Walker describes as the hardest one he’d done for this album, his voice a delicate howl at the end. Then there’s “Gas Station Roses,” a look at how we are when addiction takes over, and the cheeky “Welfare Chet,” with lines explaining why “Everybody wants to go home, but no one wants to go home with me.” “There’s not a lot of pretension at a honky-tonk, and there’s much more interaction than in other bars - you see a lot less people on their phones,” Walker explains. “We’re there to talk to other humans, put a song on the jukebox and dance with a stranger, get to know your bartender and tell them all your problems. I really wanted to capture that feeling on this record - I want everyone to feel like they know all these characters, and that they’re somehow better understood because these songs exist.”
Introductions to Walker and his honky-tonk cast of characters are happening on stations like WNCW, KDNK, KBAC, WDVX, and WMOT, and Walker is out now on his own as well as sharing time with Charlie Crockett.