The sky goes on forever in Barry Walker Jr.’s Shoulda Zenith, and it’s crackling with unexpected lightning. The Tennessee-bred, Portland-based pedal steel master 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 and drummer Dana Valatka, and others, Walker has synthesized his love for country, New Age, freeform freakouts, and ecstatic music on Zenith. One can 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. One 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. Tilt the head just right and “Shoulda Zenith” and “Trinity Payload” may be the most psychedelic things a 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.