The sky goes on forever in Barry Walker's Shoulda Zenith, and it's crackling with unexpected lightning. The Tennessee-bred, Portland-based pedal steel player subverts his instrument's tradition for lachrymose, innocuous Rootzak™. Instead, he ventures to outward-bound strata more frequently traversed by Sonny Sharrock than Gram Parsons. “So often, the pedal steel is used as a textural flavor,” Walker says, “but it really can breathe fire itself.” Evidence for that claim abounds on Shoulda Zenith. Sprouting out of the strategies Walker used on his 2012 LP of Henry Flynt- and Paul Metzger-like fiddle aberrations, Banjo Knife, the music on Zenith goes on similar extravagant tangents—but with pedal steel.
Assisted here and there by bassist Scott Derr, drummer Dana Valatka, and several other players, Walker has synthesized his love for country, exotica, New Age, freeform freakouts, and ecstatic music on Zenith. You may hear traces of the laid-back sinuousness of Texas psych-rockers Cold Sun, Fushitsusha's craggy, acid-rock excoriations, and Doug Sahm's sprightly melodic sweetness. You may notice “Insect Interlude” adding new colors to Terry Riley's Rainbow In Curved Air and “Up The Fan, Into The Keyhole” taking Sharrock's Black Woman to Appalachia. If you tilt your head just right, “Shoulda Zenith” and “Trinity Payload” may be the most psychedelic things your pandemic-besieged mind will encounter in 2020. Cosmic country didn't know it needed its own Inventions For Electric Guitar, but now that it's arrived, the Gilded Palace Of Sin is starting to seem like a dilapidated bungalow.