Joshua Ray Walker
The catalyst of Joshua Ray Walker’s new album, What Is It Even?, was sparked on the patio of the Tulsa, Oklahoma music venue and dive bar Mercury Lounge, a fitting origin story for any country record. But this is far from an ordinary country record. It was on that Tulsa patio, deep into tour, when Walker and drummer Trey Pendergrass were half joking about what their gospel jump blues version of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” would sound like, wondering “ what if the Blues Brothers covered a Whitney Houston song?”
At that point, it was still unclear how the Dallas native would follow up his trio of critically acclaimed, interconnected albums, all of which were packed tight with character-driven songs that put multiple national-tours worth of crowds on the precipice of staining their shirts with either beers or tears, depending on the song. The third of the trio, See You Next Time, led to Walker appearing on The Tonight Show and CBS Saturday Morning, brought with it performances at Ryman Auditorium in Nashville and Gruene Hall in Texas, landed him on Rolling Stone’s “Best of 2021” list, and prompted SPIN to call him “one of country’s most exciting storytellers.”
Those stories about dive bar dwellers running out of last chances made listeners feel a gauntlet of emotions. What Is It Even?, a 11-track cover album consisting of songs made famous by female pop acts, produced with John Pedigo and arranged alongside his touring band of Pendergrass, bassist Billy Bones, and pedal-steel player Adam Kurtz, was born out of wanting to make people feel joy.