REVIEW: Josh Turner – ‘Deep South’

LifeInASong_UK

Josh Turner has one of country music’s most individual voices. Whereas some singers morph into one another – where does Brantley end and Kip begin, for instance? – Josh’s deep baritone delivers a different type of song. Perhaps only Chris Young comes close, but his voice can soar more ravishingly than Josh’s. These eleven tunes showcase a wonderful instrument that sounds as excellent as ever.

Josh is a father-of-four who turns forty in November, who became a Grand Ole Opry member a month before he turned thirty. He is both critically and commercially successful, and like fellow Opry member Brad Paisley is also a writer of his own stuff, notably the modern standard ‘Long Black Train’. You may know him best, though, for ‘Your Man’, a song written by the obscure songwriter Chris Stapleton. He was obscure back then, anyway!

‘Deep South’ is Josh’s first release since 2012, an eternity in Nashville where every year a new bloke comes along every week for fans to appreciate. Perhaps because of the rise of bro-country there was less of a market for Josh’s music in recent months, though in 2014 he told Rolling Stone Country: “I don’t follow trends…but I want to be a player in the game”. A noble sentiment, and Josh, like Brad, is an artist for this time and for all time.

‘Southern Drawl’ namechecks Southern states in the verses, giving it an awesome sense of place. Its chorus is great too: “It’s the way she says “I love you” that makes me fall in that sweet, soft, slow Southern drawl”. It’ll be one for CMA Fest this year…

‘Hometown Girl’, currently getting lots of spins on country radio and thus guaranteed to be played in any ten-minute set by Josh at CMA Fest this year, was co-written by Daniel Tashian, a name you ought to know from his pop band The Silver Seas (formerly The Bees). “New York called when she turned 21, but she never forgot where she came from,” sings Josh, and the song contains the lovely line: ‘Her roots run deeper than that old town square’. The vocalese (‘oooh’) in the middle of the song and at the fadeout are also lovely.

The title track contains the lowest note (sung the last time Turner intones the title of the song) outside of Conway Twitty’s oeuvre. It’s another one of those ‘I’m from the South, let me tell you bout it songs that come out every week these days: in this one Turner is talking to someone not from the South and educating them of ‘the Land of Cotton’: “Screaming down a back road like we don’t care…Me and my baby making out in the barn!” Josh plays guitar to his momma and goes to church, and it’s all very traditional, especially with the fiddle and the slide guitar. It’s like bro-country never happened, and it sounds very 2004.

Likewise, ‘Never Had a Reason’, which has the sort of piano that was omnipresent when a new ballad popped out every week in the early 2000s. Wonder is very 2017, though. It is quite plodding in its arrangement, though it sounds very similar to (not just because it shares a chord progression with) ‘Think of You’ by Chris Young. The lyric in the song is of regret – ‘If I hadn’t screwed it all up’ – and many listeners will find familiarity. It shares its tenor with Lay Low, the album’s first single.

‘All About You’ is the album’s standout track. It’s very contemporary and fun, with a smashing chorus that comes from the Lady Antebellum School of Hookiness. It ought to be the next single, as it has an addictive quality that makes you replay it as soon as you first hear it. It also includes some charming vocalese and some banjo; think of it as a country update of McFly’s song of the same name.

‘Beach Bums’ is also pretty good, since there’s a gorgeous mandolin in its opening bars introducing a first verse which includes sand, riverbanks, trucks and a farmer’s tan; the second verse takes place in the river: “I’ll be baptised by your angel eyes and taste heaven on your lips” is a lovely line. Josh is religious, but this is a lovely secular song. Likewise, ‘One Like Mine’, with its lyric “she’s made me a believer…You’re gonna get to your knees, you’re gonna thank the Lord”.

Take a wild stab at the musical influence on ‘Hawaiian Girl’, “the sunshine of my day…My Polynesian pearl”. Elvis would have killed for this song for the Blue Hawaii soundtrack; indeed the backing vocals echo the sort of guys who used to sing behind or alongside Elvis. It never comes off as cliché and is a lovely closer to a warm, spirited album.

Jonny Brick

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