Album Review: Josh Turner – Haywire
The finest male voice on country radio is back with his first record in over two years. His last release, Everything is Fine went gold and saw him expanding his boundaries, experimenting with R&B and Celtic music. So Josh Turner had a lot to live up to on his fourth album.
Haywire starts off strong with infectious escapist tune “Why Don’t We Just Dance,” a single that recently cracked the Top 10. From there, the record is one love song after another. If you’re looking for a songs about drunkenness, brokenhearted wallowing, two-timing, or any other behaviors often featured in country music, best look someplace else, Debbie Downer. As he said in his interview with Blake Boldt last month, “Basically, the theme of this record is taking people’s minds off the economy and all that.” Mission accomplished? Maybe.
Though he had a hand on fewer songs than he did on Everything Is Fine, five of Haywire’s 11 songs were written or co-written by Turner. As always, he surrounds himself with some of the best in the business: Shawn Camp and Chris Stapleton show up once more as songwriters, while accomplished bluegrass musicians Bryan Sutton and Aubrey Haynie contribute some expert picking.
“As Fast As I Could,” written with Jeremy Spillman (“Another Try,” “Arlington”), is the one of the strongest songs of the album and seems destined for success on the charts. It sounds somewhat similar to “Would You Go With Me,” combining a rootsy fiddle and Dobro arrangement with an insanely catchy chorus. As with “Would You Go With Me,” Turner absolutely nails this song, sounding sweet and sincere as he sings “I ran full speed ahead without stopping to rest/Not knowing where I was headed to/Now that I’m here, it’s perfectly clear/I was making my way to you/Can’t believe how long it took/But I got here as fast as I could.” As a bonus, there are hints of Turner’s all-too-rare falsetto.
On Everything Is Fine, Josh Turner flirted with R&B on his duet with Anthony Hamilton, “Nowhere Fast.” On Haywire, the R&B feel is back with “Lovin’ You On My Mind,” only this time, Turner’s flying solo. Written by Kendell Marvel, Chris Stapleton, and Tim James, “Lovin’” is a slow burn of a song, thanks to Turner’s sultry delivery, which is backed by Nashville Sound-esque strings. It’s not hard to imagine this being a song Conway Twitty would have jumped at the chance to record 30 years ago. Also in this soulful vein is the decidedly unsexy but very moving gospel tune, “The Answer,” on which Turner brings in a choir.
Like his previous three albums, Haywire has some filler. But it’s better filler than the material on his earlier records: there are no outright stinkers like “Trailerhood.” The weakest song is the album’s title track. A song about a woman who leaves a man tongue-tied, shaking, and full of desire calls for a looser, wilder performance; here Turner’s restrained delivery suggests he’ll go haywire…as soon as this episode of Babe Winkelman’s Good Fishing ends. He’s made it clear that he can cut loose with songs like “Loretta Lynn’s Lincoln,” and Johnny Horton’s “One Woman Man,” but that feeling of playfulness is missing on “Haywire.”
The album’s lone cover is a remake of Don Williams’ 1987 Top 10 hit “I Wouldn’t Be a Man.” Turner’s version is nothing particularly special, especially when compared to Williams’ damn fine original; Turner seems to be phoning it in. It’s hard not to compare it to Turner’s other, better Don Williams cover, “Lord Have Mercy On a Country Boy” (from Your Man). Now, the lyrics to “I Wouldn’t Be a Man” are cringe-worthy even when a smooth guy like Don Williams is singing them, so although Josh Turner should be commended for singing “the secret way you touch me/Tells me there’s no holding back” without sounding like a creeper, this one can be skipped over without missing too much.
Though there are no exceptional songs on here comparable to “Long Black Train” or “The Longer the Waiting (The Sweeter the Kiss),” Haywire is a very solid album. It just doesn’t live up to the flashes of brilliance we’ve seen from Josh Turner on previous work.
- Jack Williams: Steve Earle on The Wire.
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