Dallas, TX, singer-songwriter Joshua Ray Walker is making his first visit to the UK in 2023 as part of a string of dates in Northern Europe. After his appearance at the Long Road festival over the August Bank Holiday weekend, tonight’s show at Oslo in Hackney is his first indoor show here.
The show isn’t sold out but is impressively full, especially given the early start necessitated by the later club night and resultant 22:00 curfew. The audience is pretty wide ranging in terms of age with quite a few cowboy hats and baseball caps worn by the younger attendees indicative of a mix of the country and americana crowds.
Walker comes on to loud cheers and applause and, after a minute or so tuning, unleashes the yodel that announces opener ‘Loving Country’ which evolves seamlessly into ‘Bronco Billys’. One of the characteristics of Walker’s songwriting is the acutely observed characters and events that run through his lyrics. The next tune, ‘Dumpster Diving’, has the narrator “making a killing” before meeting the love of his life. The counterpointing continues with ‘Dallas Lights’ celebrating his home town:
“So when I die Lord, don’t bury me deep under the sycamore tree
Burn me, spread me where the city can be seen”.
It’s clear the audience loves him with quite a few knowing all the words to his songs. After a taciturn start, Walker starts to engage with the crowd between songs. Finishing ‘True Love’ he spends a few minutes introducing ‘Boat Show Girl’ explaining the background to the boat shows in Texas. Prefacing ‘Cupboard’, he asks “how many you have blacked out.. and how many have blacked back in again?”
‘Lot Lizard’ is a song inspired by a conversation Walker overheard at a truck stop between a trucker and a hooker arranging to meet up –“putting more effort into their relationship than some people I know”. It runs straight into the similarly themed ‘Working Girl’ which has a good proportion of the audience singing along. Introducing ‘Cowboy’ he tells how Western wear is now back in fashion in Dallas, albeit with non-cowboys, generating some laughter from the crowd, especially those with friends and partners wearing cowboy hats.
‘Burn It’ is called for and Walker obliges. More of a rocker, it re-emphasises Walker’s versatility as a performer. His voice has a great range and he can hold a note for what seems like an impossibly long time. On top of which he is a really good guitar player. After ‘Canyon’ we get a new song (as yet untitled) with a cowboy/outlaw theme and a rockabilly feel.
With the curfew looming, Walker gives us ‘Last Call’ (about being the last act on stage to max the beer commission) followed by a community singing of the Cranberries’ ‘Linger’ from his current covers record, ‘What Is It Even?’, then straight into his classic ‘Sexy After Dark’. The set closer ‘Voices’ sets a darker tone and the vocals from artist and audience are suitably softer. The encore is ‘Flash Paper’, Walker’s song about the flash drive left him by his late father who died a few weeks before Christmas in 2020. One of the key tracks on ‘See You Next Time’, it shows the emotional and vulnerable side to Walker’s canon often obscured by his sense of humour. It’s a poignant end to an excellent show. Walker promises to return in 2024, ideally with his band.
Support at Oslo came from Norfolk 5 piece Brown Horse whose set was marred by poor sound, which rendered the vocal unintelligible and the pedal steel almost inaudible; a shame as the parts that did slip through caught the attention.