Josh Turner is one of those artists where I can hear about 80% of his material and just instantly have a ton of nostalgia hit me. Now that’s not to say I only the guy because of that, he’s always had an extremely good voice (one of the best in the genre), and for the most part, he’s had some great material like “Another Try”, his cover of “I Wouldn’t Be A Man”, and especially “Long Black Train”.
It was saddening to hear him sit out the bro-country era after “Lay Low” under-performed on the charts, but also refreshing to never hear him sell out the way we did so many other artists during that era. Now, many have criticized “Hometown Girl” as a example of pandering for a hit (in other words, contradicting my last sentence), but I actually thought the more modern, synthesized touches were done well, and as such, I was one of many people to be excited when I heard he was finally releasing his first album in five years.
Deep South is admittedly a little hard to talk about, and from what I’ve seen and heard from others, it’s the sort of album that will divide you one way or the other. I like it for the most part, and if you’ve been a Josh Turner fan at all you’ll probably find a lot to like here. However, I would definitely categorize this as one of his weaker albums, and the reason why extends towards the balance.
In an age of country music where the pop spectrum has invaded to such a significant extent, I think we all wondered whether or not Josh’s label would try to interfere to make Josh “up to speed with the times”, and thankfully they didn’t for the most part outside of “Hometown Girl”, “All About You”, and parts of “Wonder”. That said, it’s definitely an album that is gearing up to get Josh back in the good graces of radio, and as such, the best way I could describe this album is to compare it to Jon Pardi’s California Sunrise – fun, neo-traditional country music that, again, is fun, but also a little lacking in more heavier material. Tracks like “All About You”, “Where The Girls Are”, “One Like Mine”, “Beach Bums”, and possibly the title track (given how far neo-traditional country actually makes a comeback in the coming months) are all tracks that balance out Josh’s traditional sound with lyrical content that yeah, isn’t particularly smart all the time, but certainly fun and breezy enough to enjoy given the right mood.
Now, personally those types of tracks are hit and miss for me. “Deep South” has me wincing at a couple lines, particularly “screaming down a backroad like we don’t care”, but the fiddle that accompanies the bouncy melody makes it work for me. I guess I’d call it a guilty pleasure at worst. “Beach Bums” is also breezy enough to really work, even if it does share the same theme as the superior “Lay Low” later on.
Aside from those however, the other more “fun” tracks – “All About You”, “Southern Drawl”, “Where The Girls Are”, and “One Like Mine” all don’t stand out much for me, either because their lyrical content veers too much into cliches (“About You”, “Where The Girls Are”, “One Like Mine”), or just aren’t wrapped around a particularly interesting idea like how on “Southern Drawl”, he literally doesn’t care about her other attributes as much as he does her drawl and the way she says she loves him. It’s a sweet enough love song, it just has a clumsy hook.
Now, my other somewhat big criticism for this album is that, honestly, there’s really not a track that outright blows me out of the water the way that songs like “Pallbearer”, “Cold Shoulder”, “Another Try”, “Nowhere Fast”, or “Long Black Train” do. That being said though, there are many tracks I liked, such as the lead single “Lay Low”. I’m a sucker for songs that talk about getting away, not just from stress, but from civilization itself. It was a great song in 2014 and it still is now.
To reiterate, I also think “Hometown Girl” works much better than most people give it credit for, and “Never Had A Reason” is the type of sweet, romantic song you would have heard from Turner in his heyday that he pulls off well. “Hawaiian Girl” (with Ho’okena) is honestly the type of track that reminds you “oh yeah, the pedal steel actually has its roots in Hawaii, not the Appalachians”, and is definitely the most pleasing track here in terms of the laidback mood and melody. “Wonder” is probably my favorite track on the record for framing itself around a man who literally wonders and imagines what his life would be like if him and his ex-lover had made it while simultaneously wondering what she’s doing right now. He’s not angry or wishes her the worst or anything, he’s coming more from a place of sadness and honest curiosity. The more mature tone here is really what works for me, and to make a smaller point, at the very least, Josh never comes across with any brash machismo even on the more funner songs the way that other country stars do on the radio. Like Aaron Watson, his tone is often coming from more of a softer, family man perspective, and I can appreciate that.
Again, this is an album built to make Josh’s radio career last longer, and by all means, I think he succeeded on that one. After all, I don’t want Josh to fade away yet. That said, I do wish we could have had a better balance between the more fun and serious songs, or even one that outright blew me out of the water, and while that disappoints me, I can say that if you are a die hard Turner fan, you’re probably not going to be disappointed. I would say it’s a grower of an album, and with time perhaps these tracks will age better, so take that as you will.