With his increased commercial recognition, country singer Josh Turner has gradually moved away from his early southern gospel and bluegrass-inspired stylings and more towards a slightly more country pop-orientated sound, whilst nevertheless staying largely true to his roots. Since his 2006 breakout sophomore LP, Your Man, Turner’s record sales have seen a steady level of commercial success, but Deep South comes following his longest gap between album releases to date, arriving nearly half a decade after his previous album, Punching Bag. Despite such a significant amount of time between the country crooner’s two latest albums, he clearly hasn’t been slacking off during that time. The first single from Deep South was released all the way back in 2014, with the second single being released around 10 months before the full album’s release. Apparently, Turner had written around 80 songs for this new record, with the end product being the result of what must have been an arduous process of whittling down the list of these songs to the ones that Turner felt were most appropriate for the sound he was trying to achieve. The resulting mood on Deep South is one that maintains a distinct country pop flavour, whilst not entirely sacrificing the neotraditional principles of a classic country singing style and a strong emphasis on the place of the instrumental arrangements on these compositions. Of course, the salient reason for the length of time between Turner’s 2012 album and Deep South arises from the disputes between the artist and his record label, Universal’s country subsidiary, about which only a limited amount of information has surfaced. In fact, this record was initially announced for release in March of 2015, before this was retracted. As such, much of the material on Deep South was recorded in a slightly different musical climate to that of 2017, with the bro-country outbreak occurring in the years following the release of Turner’s previous album, largely as a result of the success of Florida Georgia Line’s hit song, Cruise, also released in 2012, which saw a sudden surge in popularity for this subgenre of popular country music. Perhaps this somewhat explains the more mainstream approach assumed by Turner on Deep South, as much of this record certainly feels like it would have been more at home released two years ago. The most prominent critique of this record arises from Turner’s occasionally clumsy sacrifice of his previous musical principles. This aside, however, Deep South, even after numerous listens, has proven to be a rather fun and entertaining record in certain regards. Whilst often feeling very out of character for a Josh Turner record, and whilst also coming across as trying a bit too hard to evoke bro-country-esque sensibilities, this album’s light-hearted complexion makes for a release that is quite successful in attaining the broad appeal Turner was likely pursuing.
The album’s opening title track acts as an effective mission statement for this album’s recurring musical and lyrical themes. Indeed, this track is most definitely a song that’s meant to be listened to whilst driving an old truck down a dirt road on a hot spring’s day. Instrumentally, this cut adheres to many neotraditional country principles, and this is largely played to good effect. The duelling bluesy acoustic guitar and twangy electric guitar play off one another very well, and the classic-sounding fiddle and lap steel are worked into this arrangement without making it sound cluttered. The straight, sluggish drumbeat is slightly evocative of bro-country, but above all else, it maintains an effective, head-bobbing groove during the chorus. Turner’s vocal performance, whilst nothing special, certainly serves its purpose, and his vocal melodies are on point when it comes to catchiness. His approach to lyric-writing on this song, however, and in fact on practically the entire record, is more of a recitation of every lifestyle staple of the rural American south. Whilst Turner’s lyrics have never been the central focus of his music, for a 39-year-old man who’s married with four kids to be singing about chasing girls around comes across as a bit too desperate of an attempt to appeal to a bro-country audience. Nevertheless, I must admit that this opening track got me rather excited for the rest of the record, almost exclusively as a result of how plainly fun it is, and even following a host of subsequent listens, its novelty has not worn off. Whilst no other cuts on Deep South reach the same level of sheer enjoyability as the title track, the following tracks, All About You and Hometown Girl, although a lot more trite, are still rather entertaining for similar reasons.
After these first handful of stand-out cuts, Turner assumes a much more noticeably middle-of-the-road mainstream country approach to songwriting. This is most evident in the way in which many songs, such as Beach Bums and Lay Low, feature more low-key verses before building up to grand choruses with radio-friendly vocal melodies for that singalong quality. In this sense, they are arguably successful, but when listening to these songs in the context of the record, as opposed to on a car radio, many of these songs can blend in with the surrounding cuts in the tracklisting, resulting in a record that is rather one-dimensional. That’s not to say that none of these songs are particularly enjoyable, rather many of them display a nice quirk or two that make them entertaining for the time that they are on. Beach Bums, for instance, features some well-assembled instrumentation, making use not just of bright acoustic guitars that are typical of country beach anthems, but also some traditional fiddle, mandolin and lap steel embellishments that are used to good effect, as well as some southern rock piano licks that are worked into the background at some points. Turner’s vocal delivery on this track, also, is one of his better performances on the record, particularly during the verses, wherein he captures a slight husky hue to his voice, as he reaches into his lower range, that is pleasant on the ears. This being said, there are a few songs on this record that edge quite close to sounding so run-of-the-mill as to be somewhat unmemorable, with Never Had a Reason and One Like Mine coming to mind as the most significant examples. Ultimately, there is a level of enjoyability that can be found in most songs on Deep South, but then again, there are often a lack of definitive moments that are particularly remarkable, which hinders the extent to which many listeners will be eager to revisit this record.
Overall, the primary entertainment factor of Deep South is one that exists on a very superficial level, in that a lot of the songs on this record are rather enjoyable in their straightforwardness. Of course, scrutinising many of these tracks will reveal somewhat of a lack of direction, as is evident in the country pop platitudes that Turner employs in his lyrics, or the approach to songwriting that is often clearly crafted for radio airplay. This being said, however, this is a relatively fun album for the time that it’s on, with its best moments, particularly the title track, being rather impressive. Ultimately, this amounts to Deep South being a satisfying listen for the first few times round, but it surely lacks a whole lot of staying power as a result of an attitude towards songwriting that has been rather commonplace in the country music scene for the past few years now. I am left slightly apprehensive about the extent to which Turner’s label will continue to influence the simplification of his sound into the future, but as it stands right now, Deep South hasn’t shown the singer to completely sacrifice his core musical principles.
The Vinyl Verdict: 6.5/10