Album Review: Josh Turner – Punching Bag

11 Jun

Josh Turner undoubtedly possesses one of the most distinctive and impressive male voices heard on country radio today – a characteristic which, combined with his moderate traditionalist bent, has often made him a breath of fresh air on the mainstream country scene.  What isn’t always impressive is his song material.  His career thus far has often been punctuated by moments of brilliance (with the hits “Long Black Train” and “Would You Go With Me” being foremost among them), with a series of middling efforts in between.

Turner’s fifth album Punching Bag finds him continuing to live up to the traditionalist aspect of his persona.  Produced by Frank Rogers, who also helmed all four of Turner’s previous albums, Punching Bag serves up steel-heavy country sounds with a modest contemporary polish.  It adds up to a collection layered with pleasant, distinctly country-sounding arrangements, as well as warm, accessible melodies, but that falters in leaning too heavily on safely inoffensive, radio-ready song content.

As individual pieces, the album’s many up-tempo cuts are generally pleasant diversions in their own right, but when collected together, they come across as indistinct, interchangeable parts of the composite whole.  Between ditties such as “Deeper Than My Love,” “Good Problem,” “Find Me a Baby,” “Whatcha Reckon,” and “Left Hand Man,” we can expect to see at least one or two tapped for radio release within the album’s commercial life cycle.  Some, particularly “Left Hand Man” and the current hit single “Time Is Love,” lean too heavily on so-so hooks that strain to be clever, while the remainder of the lyric sheet is left blank of substance. “Find Me a Baby” even indulges in the gimmickry of slapping on kiddie singalongs and baby babbling, which doesn’t help.

Not surprisingly, the album’s finest moments are those that likely haven’t a prayer of making it to radio.  “Cold Shoulder” is a fine steel guitar weeper with a sonic backdrop that has Jones written all over it.  The lyric effectively portrays a crumbling marital relationship, in which the husband’s mending efforts are met with only icy silence.  Turner’s deep baritone is put to ideal use on the dark ballad “Pallbearer,” in which a narrator compares facing the end of the relationship to carrying the corpse of a deceased individual to the grave.  The eerie melody creates a sense of foreboding as Turner digs into his lower register with fine results.  He taps into his bluegrassy side with the spiritually themed “For the Love of God,” reminiscent of his 2006 hit “Me and God,” in which the narrator compares his own life course to individuals living only for themselves, vowing to keep his relationship with God the first priority in his life.  The acoustic-based bluegrass arrangement makes “For the Love of God” easily the coolest sounding track on the album.

In a similar vein, Turner attempts to dig deep with “I Was There,” which begins as a solid note as Turner sings from the point of view of God, and recalls God’s personally witnessing all significant events in human history as well as everyday life.  However, the song deals itself a crushing blow in its final verse, as it portrays God miraculously delivering a man from a near-miss of a car crash that almost resulted from his using his phone while driving:  “I was there last night on Highway 9/ When you answered the phone and ran right through that stop sign/ I was in the cab of that big rig in that trucker’s ear/ Made him swerve to the right and miss you by a hair.”  The song seemingly ignores the fact that approximately 40,000 Americans die in automobile accidents annually, leaving the questions hanging as to why God doesn’t deliver these victims as well.

Ultimately, the album gives Turner’s fans what they’ve come to expect while offering relatively little material that feels fresh, unexpected, or exciting in any significant way.  Granted, the sonic stylings are broadly enjoyable, and Turner expectedly delivers some fine performances.  Still, the project as a whole is bogged down by the fact that too much of the material feels like filler, and not enough of it feels like art.

(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)

BUY:  Punching Bag

Top Tracks:  “Cold Shoulder,” “Pallbearer,” “For the Love of God”

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Posted by on June 11, 2012 in Album Reviews, Reviews



5 responses to “Album Review: Josh Turner – Punching Bag

  1. sharon wells

    June 11, 2012 at 10:49 PM

    I loved the comment you made of why would God choose to save this person, when at the very least the last time he was using his cell phone while driving,(therefore, preoccupied) and then reasoning why, then, God would allow others to die the same way.

  2. Hoggy from Oz

    June 12, 2012 at 8:19 AM

    hmmm. This sounds very much like Turner’s previous album, which I liked, but will admit was more ear candy than though provoking art. I’ll still be getting this though, as I’ll need it (and Alan Jackson’s) to cancel out the uber-polished pop of Maroon 5’s next album in a couple of weeks.

    I’ve gotta keep my country cred up :)

    As always, great review Ben.

  3. wiley16350

    June 12, 2012 at 12:35 PM

    I am going to take issue with your comment that the song “I Was There” ignores the fact that many people die in car accidents. The problem with your conclusion is that one of your premises for your argument is wrong. Your argument could be stated as:

    Premise 1: God saved a person from an accidental death.
    Premise 2: God must save everyone from accidental death if he saves 1.
    Conclusion: God doesn’t save everyone from accidental death, therefore he did not save that 1.

    It’s obvious Premise 2 is wrong. Why does God have to save everyone from accidental death? Who are you to demand that he saves everyone from accidental death?

    There also could be times when God has intervened and the person ignored a feeling or thought they got from God within that moment so they did not avoid the accident and someone died. The song has a very plausible story line. And I believe that type of event has happened millions of times throughout the history of the world. You could say that it was the truck driver’s response to a feeling or thought that saved the man because another driver might not have listened. But obviously, if God never spoke to the driver than the accident would have definately happened and the singer would have died. So ultimately, God saved the man from dying. It wouldn’t be wrong for someone in that situation to praise God for saving him just because in other instances the outcome wasn’t the same.

    • Ben Foster

      June 12, 2012 at 5:28 PM

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts so openly, Wiley. I’m sure individual feelings vary widely on such a sensitive topic. As you can see, I do feel that the song would be better without the portion in question. I was not ‘demanding’ that God save everyone from accidental death, but that part of the song dredges up a lot of weighty questions, to say the least, and to me it feels somewhat insensitive to those who have lost loved ones in car accidents.

  4. Anonymous

    June 14, 2012 at 5:47 AM

    Great review! I enjoyed reading your thoughts and agree with a lot of your conclusions. I like the song “Pallbearer” a lot but could do without most of the other songs on the album, unfortunately. I was wondering if you were going to write a review of Jana Kramer’s album at some point? I know you reviewed her single a while back and am interested in reading any opinions you might have on the rest of the album.


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