2020 has seen quite a few records that could be described as “cosmic country,” but Barry Walker Jr’s Shoulda Zenith might just be the spaciest and wildest of the bunch.
A Tennessee native that is currently based out of Portland, Walker takes free jazz, ambient and interstellar rock, and then translates them through pedal steel guitar and the lens of country music. What you get is a refreshingly original sound that dares to branch off into extremely abstract directions.
On “Up The Fan, Into The Keyhole,” Walker’s melodic slide work is accompanied by ricocheting drums, which together creates a euphoric spiritual jazz-scape that is like a blend of Sonny Sharrock, Lonnie Liston Smith and Tyler Higgins.
Then, the mellow psychedelic rock meanderings of “Derr of the Schwann (Break of the Dawn)” features a snappy beat and a surf-music-on-sedatives-like groove. This is one sunny, catchy and deeply serene tune.
Meanwhile, “Trinity Payload,” and “Mud Crack Gallop” finds Walker really pushing the boundaries of what he could do with his particular instrument. “Trinity Payload” is a total barrage to the senses, with screeching overdriven guitar and waves of disorienting white noise. “Mud Crack Gallop” in comparison, is a total come down, with rumbling drones and a swarm of clattering percussion, while Walker plays a ghostly honky-tonk steel solo quietly in the background. If Eraserhead took place in the old west, then this track would belong on its soundtrack.
Lastly, the closing song, “Like a Prisoner,” is probably the closest the album gets to having a mainstream country sound. Featuring a traditional country backing band, a female backup singer and Walker’s velvety lead vocals, the track easily inches into cosmic Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris territory. This song shows that Walker and his collaborators have the versatility to both stretch the elements of country music into new and daring places and play straight (well, slightly stoned) country/Western tunes.
If you’re a fan of Mute Duo, North Americans and The Flying Burrito Brothers, then this is a record you will love. It’s out today, so be sure to get yourself a copy from the Holy Mountain label’s Bandcamp today.