Album Review

Joshua Walker - What Is It Even?

On this potentially one-off record, Walker’s enthusiasm is contagious, creating all the fun he intended to.

Joshua Ray Walker - What Is It Even? Album Cover
August 1, 2023 8:15 am GMT

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Joshua Ray Walker - What Is It Even?

Label: Soundly Music

Release Date: July 21, 2023

Producers: John Pedigo

Tracklisting:

1. 'Cuz I Love You' (Lizzo Cover)

2. 'Linger' (Feat. Kyle Gass of Tenacious D) (The Cranberries Cover)

3. 'I Wanna Dance With Somebody' (Whitney Houston Cover)

4. 'Believe' (Cher Cover)

5. 'Cheap Thrills' (Sia Cover)

6. 'Blue' (LeAnn Rimes Cover)

7. 'Goodbye Horses' (Q Lazarus Cover)

8. 'Nothing Compares 2 U' (Sinead O’Connor Cover)

9. 'Joshua' (Dolly Parton Cover)

10. 'Halo' (Beyonce Cover)

11. 'Samson' (Regina Spektor Cover)

“I just wanted to make something that was fun", claims Joshua Ray Walker in the advance notes to What Is It Even?, his first release since 2020. Who would begrudge him that?

By any measure, the last few years have been challenging for the honky tonk singer-songwriter. After losing his father to lung cancer, Walker’s home flooded, forcing him to live in an extended stay residence while he was off the road during the pandemic.

While a trilogy of roots albums exploring the personalities of those who frequent bars and taverns brought him reams of adoring press, the financial payoffs weren’t proportionate to those overwhelmingly positive reviews.

In 2021 though, he told Holler about his love for pop, explaining; “I’m a huge Lizzo fan. I look to pop music for hooks. I wanna write music that resonates with people…” Still, few would have expected this rather drastic career move.

Instead of shoehorning his expressive, reality-based, organic country into fresh, self-composed music with a “chorus that people will sing along to”, Walker interprets and occasionally reinvents eleven songs made famous by women.

They help expose the personality of a guy whose generally serious work in Americana wouldn’t lead most to think he was secretly a fan of commercial material from artists as diverse as Cher (‘Believe’), Sia, Beyonce and others.

It’s a surprisingly eclectic set, where the most obvious choices are renditions of Dolly Parton (a solo acoustic rendition of ‘Joshua’) and LeAnn Rimes’ signature ‘Blue’, which stays true to her Patsy Cline-style yet adds Walker’s Roy Orbison-inflected vocals.

Those who might presume the singer-songwriter would inject down-home twang into these tracks will be surprised to hear a rocking, horn-pumped swing on Whitney Houston’s ‘I Want to Dance With Somebody’, which sounds like what Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes might do with it.

An appropriately dreamy replica of Prince’s ‘Nothing Compares to U’ (via Sinead O’Conner) lets Walker display his impressive, often soaring vocal chops, while we also get a pedal steel enhanced version of ‘Linger’ that’s nearly as supple and moving as the Cranberries’ initial recording.

He replaces the chilly electronics featured on Sia’s ‘Cheap Thrills’ with a Latin beat, layering multiple reverbed guitars for a Spaghetti Western feel that changes the vibe considerably and arguably for the better. Beyonce’s ‘Halo’ takes a side road into radically rearranged bluegrass territory, making it nearly unrecognisable and this album’s most jarring, unusual version.

The most dynamic moment on the record though is when Walker digs into Lizzo’s ‘‘Cuz I Love You’, with all the drama, power and intensity that’s applied to his own work. It makes for an explosive and spine-tingling blues rock rendering, pushing his vocals to the next level and nearly besting the original.

Not everything here clicks, but it’s clear Walker is having a blast (illustrated by the dazzling choice of wardrobe on the records cover shot). On this potentially one-off record, Walker’s enthusiasm is contagious, creating all the fun he intended to.

7.5/10

Joshua Ray Walker's 2023 album, What Is It Even?, is released August 4th via Soundly Music.

For more Joshua Ray Walker, see below:

Written by Hal Horowitz
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