Following an arena-sized introduction sounding like it’s straight out of a boxing ring, Josh Turner launches into his fifth album, Punching Bag, with a powerful anthem. The album, due in stores June 12, takes its title from the rollicking barnburner – but not its overall theme. Though the lyrics of “Punching Bag” speak of being left hanging in a pretty tough spot and having enough of getting beat up, the album itself focuses much more on love, relationships and faith with an alluring glow.
Working with longtime producer Frank Rogers, Josh delivers a set of 11 songs steeped in the traditional country sounds of fiddle, pedal steel and acoustic/electric guitars. Even songs with a modern edge like the current Top 15 hit, “Time Is Love,” have an undeniably country foundation. Against the quick and steady keys of an electric piano, Josh ponders the opportunity lost when not with his loved ones as atmospheric – yet Appalachian – guitars ring. I only get so many minutes / Don’t want to ‘em all on the clock, Josh laments in his smooth baritone.
The ability to handle a range of styles gives the collection a sense of excitement as he transitions from song to song. “Deeper Than My Love,” immediately following the modern sounds of “Time Is Love,” features a steamy groove as mysterious as the swampy everglade feel it conjures. In a pinpoint chorus of rising and falling inflection, three-part harmonies drive the message home while gripping the listener’s attention.
Josh’s rich and unique voice continues to develop into a more compelling instrument with each release. On “Cold Shoulder,” a classic country song full of heartbreaking fiddle and unanswered questions, Josh holds a steady tone with small dips that provide subtle reflection. The more she turns her back, the more the nights get colder, he sings with a sound reminiscent of legends like George Jones.
Josh wrote or co-wrote eight of the album’s 11 songs, including what may be the best traditional country song of the past several years – and we’re not just handing that compliment out. “Pallbearer” is a dark look at loneliness through the eyes of a jilted groom. I’m like a lonesome pallbearer, walkin’ down the aisle, he sings with the smoldering intensity and beautiful blue-collar poetry that recalls the brilliance of Johnny Cash. Add in Marty Stuart’s lyrical mandolin and Iris DeMent’s haunting harmony vocals, and this just might be a candidate for Song of the Year.
Deep into the record’s second half, Josh offers two faith-based songs: the Southern Gospel “For the Love of God” featuring Ricky Skaggs and the piano-based ballad “I Was There.” On the latter, Josh sings from God’s perspective to affirm His presence through it all – wars, baptisms, “acts of God” and even kids stealing cigarettes. Josh has never been shy about his faith and these songs resonate with his strong, unwavering delivery.
Punching Bag is steadfast in its traditional country core. However, there’s nothing old-fashioned about it and Josh’s talent for turning emotional melodies, happy or sad, is engaging and fresh. Songs like “Find Me A Baby (The Na-Na Song),” which features his wife Jennifer and sons singing back-up, easily find joy in everyday life. Punching Bag weighs in strong and comes out a winner.
Key Tracks – “Time Is Love,” “Pallbearer,” “Cold Shoulder,” “Deeper Than My Love”