Joshua Ray Walker's voice positively soars on "Voices," the opening track of his new album, Glad You Made It. About three minutes into the steady, pedal steel-filled song, Walker lets out a nearly 15-second-long high note that stretches to the top edges of his range.

If you're doing literally anything else while you're listening, it's liable to make you stop, rewind and hear the whole thing with no distractions.

"I've definitely become more confident as a singer, and I was willing to kind of push the limits of what I could do on this record, which means that I have to replicate that live now," Walker tells The Boot with a chuckle. "I tried to push my voice and my writing and even my playing ... I guess the fear on the first record was, like, I knew I could do it, but once it's recorded that way, people want to hear it that way. And, like, nailing it every night live, I had like this fear, I guess.

"So I kind of pushed it a little more on this record," he adds, "because I've become more confident as a performer over the last year and a half."

Joshua Ray Walker Wish You Were Here
State Fair Records

It's a bit hard to believe that Walker ever lacked in that department. The Dallas, Texas, native, had a considerable buzz around him as he released his debut full-length album, 2019's Wish You Were Here. The record lived up to its hype, earning critical acclaim for Walker's stunning ability to make listeners think, laugh and cry — sometimes all three at once.

"I had 10 years to put Wish You Were Here out ... and that was kind of all my formative writing time ... I kind of got to cherry pick some of my favorite songs," Walker points out, explaining that, yeah, he felt some pressure to keep that momentum going. "The first record exceeded all my expectations -- like, I was so happy to just have a record out ... And that went so quickly that now, with the second record, it's kind of like, Okay, now what? How do I top that? Or do I have to top that?"

He didn't have to, Walker decided. "I just need to make the record I want to make and make it as best as I can," he told himself, "and then hopefully people will like it and listen to it."

If you ask Walker, Glad You Made It is a more well-rounded album. "My whole first record was a bunch of sad singer-songwriter songs," he says matter-of-factly. "Filling 90 minutes as a headliner with all sad songs just doesn't really work in Texas."

A self-inflicted directive to lean into the uptempo was another stretch for Walker: "I got to push the boundaries of what I was comfortable with writing ...," he reflects, "and it just turned out to be a more rounded record: more upbeat and sad, the production had more variance in it ... and I think my writing's getting better."

"Upbeat," though, doesn't equal "not sad." "True Love" is as pessimistic -- or, perhaps, realistic -- as they come ("Love's just something people say / Won't grow old together, holdin' hands when your hairs are gray / Let's just call a spade a spade / True love was meant to fade," goes the chorus). The fuzzy, rocked-up album-closer, "D.B. Cooper," meanwhile, ponders the utterly unglamorous situation its titular hijacker likely found himself in after he jumped out of that Northwest Orient Airlines plane in 1971.

"It's one of those conspiracy theories that floats around the internet, and I find those interesting. I've spent probably too many hours looking at Bigfoot footage; I watch Ancient Aliens," Walker admits with a laugh. Naturally, he couldn't help but wonder what happened to Cooper, who made off with $200,000 and has never been found.

"I mean, who doesn't want to [pull off a] heist, you know?" says Walker, who started the song a decade ago with a childhood friend, Will Martin. "[As a teenager], I was like, 'Awesome: Hijack a plane, jump out of it with money ... and then sneak away to Mexico and live forever on a beach,' you know? Now I see that that's traumatizing to flight attendants, and there's all these negatives that come along with it."

Adult Walker ties the song to perseverance through hard times. The lyrics, he points out, don't focus on the hijacking itself, and they certainly don't romanticize how things likely played out for Cooper.

"In my mind, he jumped out of the plane in a thunderstorm and lost all of his supplies, and half the money went down the river, and he broke his leg ... That's kind of the visual I had: He's stuck in a tree, hanging from his parachute ... You know, he tried to do this grand scheme and it went poorly. And now he's just trying to survive," Walker continues. "I probably could have written, like, an eight-minute "Poncho and Lefty"-style ballad about it."

"I want it to feel like they're listening to the record with friends."

Working with producer John Pedigo, Walker recorded Glad You Made It in both Dallas and Nashville, keeping his door in Music City open to friends and fellow musicians. He wanted to cultivate a "party atmosphere ... 'cause my lyrics are pretty downtrodden," so Walker and Pedigo turned the downstairs of a rental house into a makeshift studio, loaded up the fridge and invited their friends over.

"[I] didn't really tell them what [we were recording]; they didn't know what songs they were playing on or anything ...," Walker recounts, "and then we would just show them the song and be like, 'Okay, go,'" as other buddies watched from the hallway, trying to stay quiet.

"You can actually hear some of the bleed from people not being quiet enough: You can hear conversations, you know, whooping and hollering in the back," he points out. "I want it to feel like [you're] listening to the record with friends."

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