Josh Gray “Walk Alone”

Continental Record Services, 2023

Road songs of the discontented…

Self-aware and self-sufficient, Josh Gray, in his third self-produced album, ‘Walk Alone’, addresses concerns stemming from carving his own unique musical furrow with all the trials and tribulations that accompany it.

Opening track ‘Radio Stations’ takes aim at those that “won’t play my songs.” It’s savvy and sharp, targeting phoney outlaw country hitmakers, noting “It only took forty writers to pen your masterpiece.” Gray, still on the road, portrays the discontented power of a man on a mission. His voice is that of the outsider, the high plain drifter, dogged and disillusioned walking with a toothache in his heel.

The title track is a muscular acoustic groove of discontent, declaring, “I’ve been told countless times, don’t you know you’ll never be known/ but I know myself just fine, sometimes you’ve got to walk alone.” Dreaming here is a dying art. Grounded in Gray’s struggles, the album fires when there’s something distinct in the cross-hairs; namely the genuine pains of a man running the hard road to a music career; self-producing and self-mythologizing, testing himself on the road. It’s a hard row to hoe.

Money or Blood‘ takes the dissatisfaction beyond personal, skewing gun rights, corporate control, and corrupt leaders. The raw guitar with the echoes of Billie Joe Shaver’s electric albums recorded with his son. The John Prine-esque, ‘She Thinks the World to Me,‘ is a rare positive moment. Amidst the narrative involving a “dirty blonde child with a blackberry smile” who holds him in high regard, Gray queries, “how in the hell am I going to live up to that?

Cheyenne‘ has a heavy grieving lament, filled with mystique and dread that evokes Townes Van Zandt’s best existential blues. It’s the sad song of the incarcerated where we’re left to guess if the bars he’s raging against are of his own internal creation. While ‘Back East‘ follows a song line south on the trail of Kerouac’s ghost, it’s roving and raw and driven by a winding lead guitar, reminiscent of Mark Knopfler’s ‘What It Is.‘ Then, ‘Mystic Queen‘ is a pleasing diversionary tale that visits us to a fictional New Orleans bar with a pulsing near-boogaloo rhythm.

The finale, ‘Building Paradise,’ a duet with Morgan Conners, is hushed and humble, setting the restless heart to peace. Discontent is measured with a paean to simple pleasures, reminding us of the basic mission to keep it small and keep it going. “I’ve seen the sun go down in so many different places. Studied lines like road maps in so many strangers’ faces…

It’s a rangey album, at its best speaking the truth with the doomed fire of Blaze Foley and Townes Van Zandt – songs of despair delivered with the burning fire of discontent.

7/10
7/10

About Tom Harding 15 Articles
A writer with a love of all things country, folk, jazz and blues. By night I'm a poet with two published poetry books from Palewell Press, latest available now, "Afternoon Music." www.tomharding.net
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