As a journalist, I do a lot of driving around the great state of Texas, always seeking music that will elevate my mood as I cruise through its fields and hills. Finding good road trip music is a necessity for a traveler, and something I take seriously.

Generally, the best music for long-distance driving is folk and country music, specifically native to the land. I place a premium on energy and feel, but what does it mean to “feel” like Texas? It may be impossible to answer this question with words. But when you listen to Joshua Ray Walker, Texas bleeds through your speakers, and into your soul.

Walker is a country singer from East Dallas who began making music as a teenager. He’s had several hit songs already on past records, including Lot Lizard (1.15M on Spotify), Voices (1.55M on Spotify), and Canyon (959K on Spotify).

His most recent record, which came out last year, is titled See You Next Time, a 10-song jaunt that ranges from deep emotional tracks to hoppin’, dance-ready country swings.

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The album opens up with Dallas Lights, an ode to his hometown that discusses how closely tied he is with his city. “So when I die / Lord don’t bury me deep / Under the sycamore tree / Burn me, spread me / Where the city can be seen.” The refrain illustrates his deeply rooted relationship with Dallas, one that not only has helped define his life, but that he believes should help define him in passing, as well.

The next track is Three Strikes, a lively romp of a country jam all about how drinking will “get the best of” the song’s subject, which may or not be Walker himself. The “three strikes” refer to the strikes it takes to get to a felony. A song about a down-and-out drinker, he sings about “topping off his Big Gulp” with liquor while he “hits the throttle” on his truck. His drunkenness spirals out of control as he takes the keys to drive since his “buddy can’t drive stick,” and while they “did not advise,” he’s “got gals to please.” It’s a song about the myopia of a drunk, and how this shortsightedness can result in destructive decisions and behaviors.

Like many of the songs on See You Next Time, the third track draws on his experiences, this time referencing conversations he’s had about growing up. Cowboy is about maturing, making adult choices, and not simply “playing cowboy” anymore. “There ain’t no rodeo / It’s time to be a man boy / No more blowin’ smoke.” Specifically, the conversation refers to how a woman has given him “second chances at romance,” but the fact that he “won’t hang up” his “spurs” makes it difficult for him to settle down. Overall, Cowboy really discusses his inability to make up his mind about what he wants to do in his life, and how this indecision affects those around him.

My favorite song on See You Next Time is the song’s lead single, Sexy After Dark, a song about when he feels his best; namely, when he’s harder to see. “Fewer words make me sounds so smart,” he sings, further elaborating on the motif of the track, which is that the more mystery he has to him, the better. Deep down, it’s a song about self-esteem, a song about how he’s not sure that anyone will love the real him. “I feel sexy after dark / Be any me I want to be.” He sings about his being a social chameleon, a person who morphs to fit the needs of others. Due to these insecurities, it’s clear just why he feels so much sexier after dark.

The fifth track on the album and the second single, Flash Paper, is slower, more melancholy tune that talks about losing some one close: “And a cigar box with notes and letters / And little things you usually pay no mind / Simple words mean more than all the syllables combined / Like ‘I love you’ / And ‘I’ll miss you too.'” It’s a universally relatable song, whose emotion pours through the speakers.

Track six is Fossil Fuel, an up-tempo country/rock jam that illustrates the plight of an oil worker whose line is “going dry.” “No one ever called me clever,” he sings, needing “fossil fuel forever” to make his living. He likes “working for what’s [his],” further showing that he’s an independent man, one who could not work in most settings. He’s figured out what his calling is, but with resources thinning, he has to reconsider how he will make a living.

Dumpster Diving is basically a song equivalent to the saying, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” The song is full of metaphorical language, discussing how he met a woman at a low point in his life, but that she is worth it, despite all of the baggage the both may have. “Sometimes what’s tossed just isn’t worth saving / But in this case, I think you’re amazing.” The fact that he says he dumpster dives “for a living” is an indication of the lifestyle he lives, likely one that involves heavy drinking at honky-tonks. But, for the moment, he’s happy with what he’s found in the proverbial “dumpster.”

The eighth song on See You Next Time is Gas Station Roses, which leads with a violin before Walker and his band come in. The song is a metaphor for relationships, which can be “propped up in pretty poses” but “once cut” are “not meant to last.” Saying his love “once passed,” and that their stems are “made of glass,” Walker refers to the temporary nature of romance, that it was “doomed” before it “bloomed.” This heartbreaking song is a cynical look at interpersonal relationships.

The penultimate track, Welfare Chet, discusses the life of a poor person, as many of Walker’s songs do. “Everybody wants to go home / But no one wants to go home with me / Is it ’cause I live in my truck? / I’m down on my luck?” He asks into the ether, but to no avail. Like a lot of his work, Walker sings about down-and-out people, and this song is no different. “Welfare Chet” is the subject, a man who just got out of prison (“Ever since the state let me free”), with whom nobody will “go home.” He’s dirt poor, lying about “being clean,” and using his welfare money to pay for motel rooms for cheap sex. Truly, no one wants to go home with Welfare Chet, because there is no home in which to go.

Walker’s finale on the album, which shares its name, only has four bars of lyrics in it, repeated over and over again: “Wish you were here / Glad you made it / These aren’t good-byes / They’re see-you-next-times.” Upbeat in its melody, See You Next Time is a song about loss as well, but not in a depressing manner; it’s simply a way of saying, while a person may be gone for the time being, there will be a reunion eventually. It’s similar in theme a bit with Flash Paper, a song about losing some one close. But this song ends the album with hope, hope that it’s not a goodbye, but a see-you-next-time.

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Overall, See You Next Time runs the gamut from heartbreaking to heartwarming, with every emotion in between. It’s a truly impressive work where Walker juxtaposes the overarching themes of loss and destitution with themes of hope and belief in a brighter future – whatever a brighter future may look like for the listener. He leaves much of this up to interpretation, of course, as so much of his writing involves metaphor and symbolism. Truly, Walker’s lyrics and musicianship create a piece that inspires but also brings tears.