Texas has a rich tradition of extraordinary storytellers. Writers who weave exceptional stories filled with colorful characters that find themselves in situations both trying and humorous. With Wish You Were Here, his debut release, Joshua Ray Walker firmly establishes himself as a leading light among the new generation of Texas songwriters.
The album opens with the stark and confessional “Canyon”, as Walker reflects on his fears and aspirations, as well as his relationship with his father. “Are you proud of me? Are you proud of what I do?,” he sings against a gentle accompaniment of acoustic and steel guitar before revealing, “I’ve tried to be a better man than the one that you knew.”
At the other end of the spectrum is the closing “Last Call.” The song, which has already become a sing-along fan favorite at live shows, captures the late night dating rituals that can occur in the waning moments before the bar closes. “I’m pretty sure you think my name is Paul,” Walker comically reveals.
In between, Walker displays his musical range as he saunters through songs in a variety of styles. There’s the mariachi flavored break-up gem “Love Songs” (“I don’t write love songs, especially for you”) and the insistent country beat of the blue-collar saga “Working Girl” (“A hard living sure ain’t easy, easy living’s even harder”). “Burn It” has a fine Buddy Holly flair, albeit if Holly cranked up the electric guitars and guzzled some Red Bull.
Wish You Were Here is a commanding musical statement from a tremendous new talent. One listen and I expect that you’ll wholeheartedly agree.
(I previously posted “Canyons” – an early candidate for song of the year – as a Monday Morning Video so I am showcasing Walker’s rocking side with the rockin’ “Burn It” here.)
They say it’s best to write what you know. It’s a statement that Josh Fleming, singer-songwriter for Vandoliers, certainly takes to heart. He wears said heart firmly on his sleeve as he and the band weave tales of big dreams and hard luck into their songs.
“A tattooed heart and bloodshot eyes, troublemaker all of my life,” Fleming shouts on the rousing “Troublemaker” as electric guitar and mariachi trumpet join in to emphasize the point. Yet even as the group confess their shortcomings, they still infuse their music with an infectious charm. “I’m just a bottom dollar boy with a broken heart,” Fleming declares later on “Bottom Dollar Boy”.
Themes of life as working musicians permeate Forever. Opening travelogue “Miles and Miles” speaks of the Rocky Mountains and Pacific Ocean while “Shoshone Rose” pays tribute to a Wyoming casino. “Sixteen Years” is the musical take on Malcolm Gladwell’s fabled 10,000 hours, as Fleming proclaims, “It takes one hundred thousand miles and sixteen years.”
Forever is the sound of the Vandoliers continuing to stake out their musical territory. The album bristles with a punk rock energy (and attitude) yet combines it with an insurgent country and even mariachi flair courtesy of Travis Curry’s fiddle and Cory Graves trumpet and keyboards. The blend makes for one hell of a musical party.
It’s hard to escape the soulful undercurrent to the Quaker City Night Hawks latest release. Sure, there is plenty of the southern and psychedelic rock on which the group has built their reputation. The new album’s “Freedom” and “Grackle King” have you covered in those categories, respectively.
Where QCNH really shines, though, is when the group leans into R&B. There’s the profound funkiness of “Suit in the Back”, the tale of a band run-in with the law, while “Colorado” floats with an ambling Birkenstock soul.
The group channels Little Feat and Leon Russell, renowned purveyors of rock with a touch of funk, on the raucous “Fox in the Henhouse.” The rumbling but restrained groove of “Tired of You Leaving” recalls classic Bill Withers, complete with tasty horns and organ.
From start to finish the band’s sound is incredibly tight, no doubt the result of the extensive touring that they have done – and continue to do. QCNH certainly captures this energy in the studio, but one can imagine that the songs have an even sharper edge live.
In the mood for rock anthems? Dead Flowers have got you covered. “We Aren’t Satisfied” and “Bruised Not Broken”, the potent opening tracks from their latest release, hit like a 1-2 punch. Rousing electric guitars and pounding rhythms guide the way, with lyrics of discontent that are ripped from the punk rock canon. “How can you expect to win a war if you can’t take one to the gut,” proclaims lead singer Corey Howe on “We Aren’t Satisfied.”
They play into their rowdy side on the raucous “Burn It Down”, a song that recalls the Ramones in their CBGB hey-day, before veering into grunge rock territory for “For You 2” and the title track. If you like your rock and roll with equal parts edginess and earnestness, you’ll undoubtedly be, um, satisfied with Let’s Get Angry!. Just be sure to play it loud.
I’ve heard about Denton’s Doug Burr several times since arriving in Dallas, mostly from other songwriters. His recently released double single is a welcome introduction. There’s an alluring starkness to his music, one that’s made all the more absorbing by the gentle ache of his voice.
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.