Country music doesn’t have the long list of “one hit wonders” that pop does, but it looked for a while like Josh Turner, whose retro Southern gospel throwback “Long Black Train” made a sizable impression in early 2004, was heading in that direction. Looking to follow up such a memorable single, which the remainder of his self-titled debut failed to do, his sophomore album, Your Man, makes a fairly smart decision in attempting to position Turner as the Randy Travis to Brad Paisley’s George Strait: a super clean-cut kid with a distinctive baritone who isn’t afraid to court both the genre’s secular and evangelical bases. Artistically, that isn’t such a terrible position to take, in that Music Row has plenty of George Strait knockoffs to shill ad infinitum, while Travis’s is a far more difficult act to follow.
The problem for Turner, as Your Man repeatedly make clear, is that he simply doesn’t have the voice, the songwriting chops, or the ear for quality material that have made Travis such a revered artist within the industry. Though he has impressive control and power in his lower register, Turner often sounds as though he’s straining to hit the more “radio friendly” notes in songs like “Baby’s Gone Home To Mama” and the title track, which has become his first Top 10 radio hit. While there’s something to be said for the fact that a singer with such a deep voice can score airplay at all, that Turner’s voice is unique doesn’t mean that, at this point in his career, his voice is necessarily good.
That said, it’s the songs that ultimately make Your Man such a problem. The first half of the album consists of songs co-written by Shawn Camp, who scored a couple of minor hits of his own in the early ‘90s, but whose lyrics too often overstep the line between what’s funny and what’s trying entirely too hard. “Baby’s Gone Home To Mama,” for instance, rhymes its title with “pajamas,” “Nostradamus,” and “Chihuahua.” “Loretta Lynn’s Lincoln,” which Camp co-wrote with Mark Sanders, is an attempt at some kind of Mulholland Drive dream-state meta-comment on the genre that isn’t bizarre in any intellectually productive way. As for Turner’s own compositions, which make up the bulk of the latter half of the record, he makes his religious convictions clear, but songs like “Me And God” (which includes the God-awful line, “You could say we’re like/Two peas in a pod/Me and God”) are only going to impress those who’ll blindly approve of anything with which they already fundamentally agree.
Then there’s “White Noise,” a duet with co-writer John “I’m Just An Old Lump Of Coal” Anderson, which, despite a ridiculous attempt to cover its ass with a line about Johnny Cash and Charley Pride, would probably qualify as racist were the whole of it not so balls-out stupid. Really, it’s just entirely too easy and to no meaningful end to pick apart a song that uses “Take me where those honkies are a’ tonkin’” as its hook, but it probably does say a great deal—none of it good—about how, even post-Big & Rich, country music is still marketed. When Turner later sings about all he learned “Way Down South,” though, it gives significant pause and calls into question whether he’s really an artist worth paying attention to, or if perhaps it’s better to think of “Long Black Train” as a fluke success. Your Man may establish Turner as a star, but it doesn’t resolve the lingering questions about his artistic mettle.