Jon Patrick Walker is an actor by trade, used to performing in television and film studios or treading the boards of Broadway; so, it is no surprise that he inhabits his songs with emotion, character and wit. In recent years, Walker has been prolific and ‘Welcome to the Edge Times’ is his third full-length album since 2013. Walker’s songs are characterised by his delicately emotive singing and strong vocal melodies.
The album opens with the gentle finger-picking and guitar strum of the title track. Walker’s lovely, low vocal suddenly switches to a higher pitch with the second verse, serving to draw the listener into his quietly, apocalyptic lament: “Came of age in the 1980s / Middle-aged in the edge times, if you please / I fear for the future of all gentlemen and ladies. / Don’t know why I’m falling, don’t know how I’m gonna land.”
Walker refers to the current state of the world as ‘the edge times’ and we know what he means. This sense of things ending, familiar things crumbling, both on a personal level and more broadly, pervades many of the songs. The following track, ‘We Won the War’, is similarly sparse, just Walker’s quivering, melodic vocal over strumming guitar as he asks the question: “We won the war, what was it for?” Through this mournful song, he shares his despair at never-ending conflict, from which we learn nothing, with one war simply leading into the next.
‘The Crystal Palace Park’ begins with the line: “At the Crystal Palace Park the sun feels sinister,” and the mournful musical mood matches the lyric well. However, Walker soon picks up the pace with fuzzy electric guitar and percussion as the song builds into a 1960s pop-rock number that wouldn’t be out-of-place in the back catalogue of The Kinks, a feeling enhanced further by quirky lyrical details, such as references to the lido and bowlers on the green in the park.
Walker has a knack for producing surreal, almost-mythical narrative ballads, including the rhythmic ‘Whatchoo Gonna Do’, ‘The Mystical Ballad of Gregory Jim’ and the upbeat ‘(Meet Me at the) Delaware Water Gap’. Such songs are more ambitious, with recordings of thunder and bird song, more complex arrangements and intriguing, often humorous, language or situations. Whether it’s setting a camp fire in the belly of a whale, Gregory Jim holding out his heart in his hand or the narrator in ‘Delaware Water Gap’ wearing a jet pack and being recognised by the pink carnation in his lapel, Walker repeatedly demonstrates that he is a fine story-teller with real lyrical ability, offering an entertaining commentary on the world around him: “Don’t you know we’re already elsewhere / In our mind’s eye sailing the breeze, / Don’t you know we’re somewhere much better / Than the Home of the Slave and the Land of the Sleaze.”
A couple of the record’s highlights are the controlled vocal performances and beautiful tunes of ‘Angelina in the Sky’ and ‘Blues for My Baby’. Although these are elegant and deeply personal songs about the loss of his mother, they are both ultimately uplifting as Walker sings: “My good-loving mama, mama learned to fly.” They offer the hope of re-union, especially on the former, when, buoyed by hymn-like backing vocals, Walker asks: “Angelina of the sky, oh, will she fly to meet me / When it’s time for me to die, will she cry to greet me.” As on ‘Like a Rose’, the effect of such openness and honesty is disarming and, as listeners, we are by his side.
At times, the production is a little too raw, such as the diverting clanging of a meditation bell or the distracting sliding of fingers on strings. However, Jon Patrick Walker has put together an interesting mix of songs, with just enough variety in tone and delivery while maintaining a clear identity throughout. The end result is a lyrical, intimate album, featuring fine melodies and an effectively emotional vocal performance. ‘Welcome to the Edge Times’ is a nod to the past but its themes fit well with the prevailing mood.