Josh Turner: Long Black Train
Sound/Style: Commercial country music with a dash of traditionalism
By Steve Morley
(UMCom) -- If you ever watch cable music television, you might have found yourself (as this writer did) double-checking the channel setting when you heard the booming bass voice of Josh Turner singing "there’s victory in the Lord, I say." The singer’s debut single "Long Black Train" was a slow-starting runaway hit that, as in country music’s days of old, places straightforward Christian sentiments into a full-throttle country shuffle. Decades ago, acts like The Carter Family and bluegrass innovator Bill Monroe - among many others - freely shared the Gospel in their music. It was part of who they were. These days, the music industry is so category-conscious that there’s a separate classification for Christian country music, with its own charting system and marketing. Fortunately for the country audience at large, Turner’s encouraging composition, which offers a life-saving alternative to the path of temptation, broke through to the mainstream. Turner’s album of the same name establishes him as a well-rounded country singer whose Christian beliefs are but one element of his multi-faceted personality.
Turner covers a lot of ground - from deer hunter in the Hank Williams Jr.-like strains of "Backwoods Boy" to heart-on-his-sleeve romantic in the gently rolling "Unburn All Our Bridges" and the tender domestic ode "In My Dreams." The diversity explains the newcomer’s broad appeal. While Turner can josh around on playful character songs like "Good Woman Bad" and his country-ready remake of Jim Croce’s "You Don’t Mess Around With Jim," his uncontrived vocal performance gives the overall impression that he’s letting us in on what really matters to him. With few exceptions, Turner tends to focus on weightier issues and threatens to trigger the tear ducts on more than one number. "I Had One One Time" is a compassionate look at a down-and-outer and a convincing reminder that the next bedraggled street person you see might once have been an upstanding citizen who had a run of tragic luck. Turner’s sensitive side shows on "She’ll Go On You," a heartrending song about the preciousness of time and the importance of being with loved ones who, one way or another, will be moving on.
Turner’s contemporary country sound isn’t groundbreaking, but it effectively blends a wide range of influences from swamp-flavored stompers to bittersweet country-pop that recalls Don Williams or the pre-Parrothead Jimmy Buffett hit "Come Monday." While the record features arching pedal steel, tasteful orchestral sweetening and classic guitar twang, it’s the low-stringed instrumental interludes (like the ones in Glen Campbell’s memorable "Galveston" and "Wichita Lineman") that stand out most, complementing the vocalist’s distinctive low-register voice and helping to define his sound. He comfortably walks a fine line throughout the disc, sounding entirely commercial while retaining an earthy and believable quality typical of old-school country music. Turner’s sense of his roots - a hallmark of country traditionalism - shows most plainly in the CD booklet, where his first order of business is to thank his hometown and his deceased grandparents. Long Black Train is a promising debut that ought to make them all proud.
Steve Morley is a free-lance music journalist living in College Grove, Tenn.