ou’re not going to listen to this record. I know that. I can’t say I blame you either—not because it’s a mainstream country music album, but because it’s not a very good one (ah, that old double whammy, an album our key demo couldn’t give a shit about that our reviewer doesn’t even like himself. So why even review it? I know, I know).
So let’s talk about something nice and contentious instead. Like race. Sound better? OK, good, but before we get there let me first do my critic thing and tell you why Josh Turner’s Your Man is a bad pop-country record, since personally I really do love the genre when it’s done right and so it’s important to me that I spell out why this album fails to meet that standard.
Simply put, Josh Turner’s got a great voice but doesn’t know what to do with it. It’s a deep, rich baritone, alternately evoking Johnny Cash and Randy Travis, but too often it goes to waste on the wrong kind of material. Now, I may typically prefer pop-country with a little more giddyup in its get-along, but in the case of Turner’s boudoir croon, slower is almost always better. The heavy-lidded pillow talk of “No Rush” and “Angels Fall Sometimes” finds Turner at his finest, his words pledging patience while his voice hints at sensual rewards, a swoon-inducing feat that just can’t be duplicated by less-resonant singers like Kenny Chesney or Brad Paisley.
Unfortunately, rather than cater his song selections to suit these strengths, Turner seems to have instead been given a generic “new male country pinup” starter kit that unwisely contains up-tempo numbers and lighter fare and consequently exposes his many limitations. The title track is passable enough on its own, but for a first single it’s an absolute dud, eminently forgettable and lacking a distinctive hook that should be easier to find.
The aw-shucks yuks of “Baby’s Gone Home to Mama” and “Loretta Lynn’s Lincoln” are even tougher to swallow, Turner’s spellbinding pipes turning leaden and dull when he has to tell a joke or half-cocked story. Likewise, when he tries to inject a little gravity into brisker numbers like “Would You Go with Me,” Turner just overdoes it, dropping his voice an extra couple of octaves and blatantly parroting the Man in the Black at the end of each verse.
Now, that mostly-dismissive assessment could be the end of our dealings with Josh Turner, but there’s something else interesting going on in the song “White Noise” that I think warrants discussing. A duet with country legend John Anderson that was also penned by the 80s star, “White Noise” is a fairly simple (though aesthetically quite crappy, given Turner’s narrow range) celebration of hell-raising, honky-tonkin’ country boys and girls partying to the music that’s made for them, by them. Of course, “them” means “white people,” no matter how much Turner and Anderson want to sugarcoat things at the end by saying (and basically plagiarizing Big and Rich) that “it ain’t a thing about black and white / It’s Johnny Cash and Charley Pride.”
Heartwarming as that sentiment may be, it hardly excuses Anderson’s earlier admonition that these aforementioned kids don’t listen to “no hip-hop jive.” Wait, what? Yeah, Anderson’s clearly a crotchety old has-been, but that still doesn’t explain what such a proudly separatist statement is doing on a pop-country album from a mainstream, visibly marketable young star in 2006.
Well, the taste and tact that went in to deciding “White Noise” belonged on Turner’s album may have been sorely lacking, but the fears and anxieties that underpin the song’s message are very likely shared by many folks in Nashville, from musicians themselves all the way up the ladder to major label execs and radio/TV programmers.
The fact of the matter is that lots of country boys and girls are listening to that hip-hop jive, and there’s no doubt it’s eating into country’s profit margins as well as its cultural cache. Suburbanites and flyover denizens may still lean towards rap—though they liberally scoop up Gretchen’s and Keith Urban’s records too—but what’s probably getting Nashville bigwigs really tight around the collar is how now even the Blue Collar Comedy crowd, especially its teenage and twentysomething members, seem to be growing ever more tolerant of hip-hop’s preeminence in the culture at large (of course, if you flip the script, I don’t think you’re gonna find too many kids in Bed Stuy or 8 Mile listening to Dierks Bentley, which is why hip-hop doesn’t have to bother acting like country even exists anymore).
To uniters like Big and Rich it’s hardly a problem—breaking down barriers shows country to be a progressive genre ripe with crossover potential. However, to the likes of Turner, Anderson and Brooks & Dunn (who tread a similarly inhospitable path with last year’s butt-dumb hit “Play Something Country”), hip-hop’s power to enchant even the hillbillies may be a sign their days of untouched subcultural dominance may be permanently dwindling.