When Joshua Ray Walker released his debut album, Wish You Were Here, in 2019, one of its most buzzed-about tracks was "Canyon," a song that explores the singer-songwriter's up-and-down relationship with his father, who was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2016. Two years later, as Walker completes an album trilogy that also includes 2020's Glad You Made It with his recent release See You Next Time, he's bringing that story's arc to a close, too.

"I'm still trying to figure out what that song means to me," Walker told The Boot of his new song "Flash Paper" during a conversation in early September. Inspired by a gift from his late dad — a cigar box of notes, some trinkets and a flash drive containing one final video message from father to son — Walker began writing the song only a week or two after his dad's November 2020 death, but didn't finish it until late the night before he was headed into the studio to record his newest album, in early 2021.

"It's weird to have two songs about my dad — you know, one about how I'm gonna miss somebody who's gone and then one about how I am actively missing him while he's gone," says Walker. Both songs express similar feelings about his father's stoic nature, though there's some tenderness and understanding to "Flash Paper" that isn't necessarily there in "Canyon."

"To be honest, I haven't fully wrapped my head around that song. I just tried my best to write what I was feeling in the moment. And I don't know if I even fully understand it yet," Walker adds. At the time, he was still hesitant to play the track for live audiences — on a then-recent run with Charley Crockett, he'd found that the emotion "was still just really, really raw" — but he never hesitated to include it on See You Next Time.

"Death is kind of a common theme on the record ...," Walker points out. "In a weird way, the timing was kind of poetic ... It was really fresh when I recorded it. And, I don't know, I'm really glad it's on there."

That's not to call See You Next Time a total downer of a record, though. "I wanted this album to be really hook-heavy; I wanted there to be an earworm in every song, if possible," Walker notes — not always his musical M.O.

"It's a whole album about a bunch of dark stuff, and death, and at first listen, you don't necessarily catch a lot of that, which I like," the artist adds. "I like to have that where it's easy listening for people who are passive listeners, but if you really want to dig in, then it's got some meat on the bone for people who want to pay attention to the songwriting."

That, along with the decision to make his first three albums a trilogy, has been Walker's musical M.O. He's known Wish You Were HereGlad You Made It and See You Next Time go together since even before he released the first album — just look at how their titles alone form a story, and the lyrics of the album-closing title track — though he kept it hush-hush from all but his producer, some of his label team and a few of his band members.

As Walker released his second album, however, fans began to notice the same cast of characters on his album covers and in his music videos, and caught on to the concept. Still, he had his reasons for not revealing the trilogy concept until he announced See You Next Time.

"A lot of people don't like concept records," Walker says. "I just figured, it was my first album out of the gate, and people have preconceived notions about concept albums, and I didn't want people thinking what I was doing is, like, a gimmick or something. So, I just didn't want to reveal it."

Joshua Ray Walker See You Next Time
State Fair Records

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