Joshua Ray Walker, the 29-year-old Texas songwriter who’s turned heads with his sharp wordcraft and pliable falsetto voice, made his late-night TV debut on Tuesday, performing with his band on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. (Walker was supposed to play the Tonight Show last month, but according to the Dallas Morning News, the in-person performance in New York was scrapped after a member of his band tested positive for Covid.)
Backed by a three-piece horn section, Walker and his group played the buoyant “Sexy After Dark” off his latest album See You Next Time. It’s an empowering slice of country-funk about turning on the swagger when the sun goes down and the neon buzzes to life. On the Tonight Show stage, Walker didn’t need much to flip the switch, shooting coy glances at the camera and nonchalantly adjusting his eyeglasses while holding a sky-high note.
“There’s a deep history of sexy-crooner country songs played by dudes who were pretty unsexy by all accounts but still had so much swagger,” Walker told Rolling Stone last summer. “‘Sexy After Dark’ was my attempt at writing a song like that.”
Walker and his band — including pedal steel player Adam Kurtz, who provided the song’s distorted steel solo — donned matching embroidered suits for the high-profile booking, a rare TV milestone among independent artists. Walker released all three of his albums — Wish You Were Here, Glad You Made It, and the new See You Next Time, Rolling Stone Best Country and Americana Albums of 2021 — on the Texas indie label State Fair Records.
Walker will launch a U.S. tour at the club Ponyboy in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, on Wednesday night, a run that hits major markets like Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and New York City’s Mercury Lounge.