Monday, February 08, 2010

Review: Josh Turner's Haywire

Josh Turner- "Why Don't We Just Dance" (YouTube video stream)

I got chills the first time I heard the title track of Randy Travis' "Storms of Life." References to Montgomery Ward, a Ford pickup, chicken wings and a six pack spilled out of my car radio in the first thirty seconds of the old-fashioned weeper. Now, that's country! Along with Dwight Yoakam, Steve Earle and Marty Stuart, Travis was part of a traditionalist country revival that was destined to forever rid the airwaves of the likes of Barbara Mandrell, Anne Murray and Restless Heart.

Or so I thought.

I had a similar reaction when Josh Turner's soulful Christian admonishment "Long Black Train" hit a few years ago. Turner clearly shared Travis' love of George Jones and both men specialize in chest-rattling low notes. Maybe Turner was the antidote to the nation's unhealthy infatuation with Rascal Flatts.

I was fooled again.

Haywire, Turner's new album, is a perfectly-conceived, immaculately-produced crossover country album. I don't like it.

The album is a tribute to domestic bliss. Rather than consummating a relationship in a sordid motel, Turner croons "Let's Find a Church." Turner's idea of getting rowdy on "Friday Paycheck," the album's obligatory honky tonk song, is shouting out a request for Johnny Cash. He assures a child that he's a "monster-runner-offer" on "As Fast As I Could." And do I really need to give away the subject of "The Answer"? (It's Jesus, silly!)

The prim and proper Haywire will likely be one of the top-selling albums of 2010. While I can picture myself enjoying the album as I tailgate in mixed company before a Carrie Underwood or Brad Paisley concert, it's not what I want from country music. I demand songs about pain, drinking and cheating. Great voice or not, I don't need a guy who rhymes "sunshine" with "good times."

I'm considering buying the deluxe version of Incense and Wine, the latest album by Miles Bonny, mostly because I covet the engraved flask that comes with the package.

Sir John Dankforth has died.

Killer Strayhorn perform Monday at Jardine's.


Anonymous said...

Harumph, Harumph! It's never enough to just put out solid music. They all seem to forget the formula that got them where they are. FYI-Storms of Life is the song that made me jump back on the Country Music Wagon years ago. ~Tater

bigsteveno said...

It's been said that country music has always gone back and forth between the poles of the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers, both of whom were first recorded by Ralph Peer in August 1929 in Bristol TN.

All of country music can be traced back to those sessions, with the Carters representing domesticity/religion and Rodgers being the wandering outsider who likes a drink and dies young. This is an oversimplification, but it makes a lot of sense.

You seem to fall into the Jimmie Rodgers camp, and that's totally your call. But that doesn't make the other aspect of country music less valid. It's certainly a major component of American culture. Randy Travis, not to mention another traditionalist from that era, Ricky Skaggs, went back towards the Carter Family tradition after their mainstream success.

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Happy In Bag said...

I can not wait to request "Storms of Life" the next time I attend one of your gigs, Tater.

Your point is excellent, Steve. And when viewed from that perspective, Josh Turner's new album fits neatly into the tradition.

bgo said...

Nobody has answered my question that if Keith Urban is classified as country, then why the last name? I truly am not trying to be coy or ironic here (snicker). I think it is perfectly fine to reduce the roots of the music to the goalposts of The Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers, except to say I strongly disagree with looking back at it that way. I will have to go back and listen to my Bristol Sessions double album vinyl tonight though.

Happy In Bag said...

Steve was probably referring only to lyrical content, BGO. Keith Urban's post-Eagles sound probably wouldn't register at all with Rodgers or the Carters.

bgo said...


Fine. But that entirely misses the point of my post which was clicked in jest and folly at the nature of it all. That said, I would like to plug Barry Mazor's book Meeting Jimmie Rodgers as essential reading. The Urban reference was a sick pun and nothing more. I understand the difference from the lyrical mindsets of A.P. Carter and Jimmie Rodgers too. Musically, both were modernists for their time and setting.

Happy In Bag said...

I would have acknowledged your joke, BGO, but Nashville's excision of country in country music is no laughing matter.

bigsteveno said...

The Carters/Rodgers dichotomy is not perfect. One of the criticisms of music like Josh Turner's is that it's too happy. But of the two 'Bristol sessions' artists, it was Rodgers whose music was fun. The Carter Family records could be kind of grim.

I guess maybe there's a difference between happy (because you think you're going to heaven) and fun (because you suspect you're not).

bigsteveno said...

And btw thanks for the recommendation on Mazor's Rodgers book. I just checked it out from the UMKC library.

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