So many folks in the Portland music scene could play "seven degrees of separation" from Barry Walker, and get there in just two or three steps. The pedal steel player is one of the three members of local band Mouth Painter, but also plays with Roselit Bone and Jeffrey Silverstein, a friend to DC. And speaking of connections to this site, Walker contributed all the pedal steel on that excellent North Americans album, and Dana Valatka (who used to play in the legendary local act AU with Luke Wyland) adds drums on Walker's new album, Shoulda Zenith. All of this is to say that Barry Walker is an important fixture on stages around town, and since live performances have slowed in COVID times, his solo album out in a couple weeks is just another way for him to share his music with our city.
Walker's playing on Roped In was meant to ease listeners into a state of calm, but on Shoulda Zenith, he erupts into cosmic freak out. It's not to say that the tracks are necessarily loud (though Trinity Payload certainly rips), but there exists a hazy, desert mirage mood through the album. Perhaps it's the trippy artwork, or maybe the wobbly vibrato of Walker's instrument, but there are points in Shoulda Zenith that feel like that moment when you question whether you really needed those homemade edibles before an aimless tromp into nature. Most of the music here feels heady and loose, and it's so great to hear the pedal steel (which is often seen as a background instrument) take front and center. 2020 has been a big year for the pedal steel (and cosmic country in general), and Walker has capitalized now with his own gem of a contribution to the genre. The album's most accessible songs, Derr Of The Schwann and closer Like a Prisoner, are absolutely highlights, but really, the entire album is great. And FYI, it was scheduled to be out this Friday via Holy Mountain, but has moved now to a November 13th release date, so mark your calendars.
If you're a Portlander like me, give Shoulda Zenith a spin when it's posted, close your eyes while you listen, and you'll almost be able to picture the music picture it coming through speakers at Turn Turn Turn. Hopefully we won't need to wait too long for that day to come again. Below you'll find a preview track and buy the album on November 13th here.