Josh Turner’s deep burnished baritone is one of the most distinctive on today’s country radio, but his choice of songs has sometimes let him down. Happily, this time he has found a better selection of material than on his last effort, the disappointingly pedestrian Haywire, much of it written or co-written by the artist. Frank Rogers’ attractive production puts the vocals at the heart of the record, in a restrained but firmly country setting.
A silly novelty spoken introduction on a boxing match theme by real-life ring announcer Michael Buffer leads into the title track, written by Josh with Pat McLaughlin. The song itself is thankfully much better, a well-written driving up-tempo number which uses boxing effectively as a metaphor about dealing with difficulties in life, specifically heartbreak:
She broke her promise and now she’s gonna leave me
She floated like a butterfly, it stung me like a bee
She took off the gloves and took a cheap shot
And she left me hanging in a pretty tough spot
I’m a punching bag
This is great fun and it could be a good single choice with obvious video possibilities. It is certainly more interesting than Josh’s current top 20 hit, the unexciting ‘Time Is Love’, which is pleasant listening but nothing more.
Josh teamed up with Mark Narmore to write two songs. The better of these is the very good ‘Cold Shoulder’, the plaint of a bewildered man struggling to understand why his wife is freezing him out when he has done nothing wrong. Some lovely steel guitar from Steve Hinson dominates the backing, while the vocal is excellent. ‘Good Problem’ is less memorable but still a pretty good song about a man getting ready to settle down to married life and give up his freedom with no regret, with an interesting arrangement.
‘Find Me A Baby’, written by Josh with Frank Rogers, is another good-sounding take on finding true love, but this time clearly autobiographical drawing its details from Josh’s real life and featuring his wife Jennifer and their small children on faintly embarrassing “na-na-na”s, something I normally hate, but the good humor of the song as a whole just about carries it off.
Ben Hayslip is not a bad writer when separated from his Peach Picker friends, and he helped Josh with ‘Left Hand Man’ (yet another take on committing to getting married but one which benefits from a playfully charming arrangement) and the lyrically slight but catchily melodic ‘Whatcha Reckon’.
Josh alone wrote the album’s standout track, the mournful ‘Pallbearer’. Iris DeMent adds a harmony vocal and Marty Stuart plays mandolin on this take on love lost for good:
She don’t call and she don’t try to
And my prayin’ can’t bring her back
My eyes are wide open watchin’ my future
My eyes are wide open watching my future fade to black
I’m like a lonesome pallbearer
Walkin’ down the aisle
Travelin’ to the graveyard counting down the miles
With every earth filled shovel they dig that eternal bed
I’m like a lonesome pallbearer carrying the dead
I’ve pondered trading places with the man layin’ in that hearse
I try to hold my head up but her leavin’ is like a curse
Josh’s deep bass-baritone has a natural gravitas showcased at its best on serious songs like this with emotional weight rather than the more frivolous fare radio prefers.
Ricky Skaggs guests on the religious ‘For The Love Of God’, contributing mandolin, an instrument described as a cello banjo and harmonies to the bright acoustic treatment of a heartfelt if slightly moralistic song about living the right way and for the right reasons. This was another solo composition by Josh.
Also very well done is the album’s other religious song, ‘I Was There’, written by Tim Menzies and Monty Criswell, where Josh reverently portrays the voice of God.
‘Deeper Than My Love’ is a nice love song written by Chris Stapleton and Lee Thomas Miller with some great growly bass vocals from Josh and cool banked backing vocals which give the track a life and individuality perhaps missing in the relatively obvious lyrics.
The redundant deluxe version just adds live versions of ‘Punching Bag’ and ‘Time Is Love’ and some of Josh’s bigger past hits, which add little to the recorded versions.
Overall this is an enjoyable album which is a definite step back in the right direction after Haywire. Some of the material is still lacking in lyrical depth, with the melodies generally stronger, but the whole package is solid.