Prime Cuts: Without Him, I Serve a Savior, Me and God
Overall Grade: 4/5
Alan Jackson, Alabama and Randy Travis have all taken spiritual detours at various stages of their careers before. They have all released Christian albums. For all three stalwarts, such excursions have been handsomely rewarded with #1 albums both on the country and Christian album charts. And for Randy Travis, such a diversion had even revitalised his fledging career when his "Three Wooden Crosses" became his first country #1 record in years. Now, Josh Turner, known for his #1 hits such as "Your Man," "Why Don't We Just Dance," "All Over Me" and "Would You Go with Me," follows suit. Partnering with Gaither Music, "I Serve a Savior" finds Turner putting his supple baritone on hymns, Southern Gospel favorites, originals and re-cuts of his previously recorded religious entries.
Being a disciple of the neo-traditional country movement, the backings of these 12 tracks are unadorned rustic. Traditionalists who like their country sounding warm from the soft strumming of the acoustic guitars and with a whole dash of banjos and steel would love Turner's take of Hank Williams Sr's "I Saw the Light." And if you want to get even more rootsy, listen to Turner's duet with Bobby Osborne on the original "I Pray My Way Out of Trouble." Speaking of originals, "River (of Happiness)" is one of those family affairs where Turner is joined by his wife and kids. If you like these family sing alongs, it's okay; if not, the song is essentially quite trite. Much better is the ballad "Without Him" which boasts a well-developed melodic structure and words.
The title cut "I Serve a Savior" is the most personal track here. Within the confines of this song, Turner offers his raison detre that is convincingly powerful. As with his peer Alan Jackson who cut two albums' worth of traditional hymns, here Turner has a hymn fest too. Seriously, do we really need another version of "How Great Thou Art" or "Amazing Grace"? Aren't there other chestnuts in the hymnbook that await to be sung? And isn't Turner's southern drawl enough to convince skeptics that he's southern through and through, so do we really need "Swing Low Sweet Chariot"?
Turner then reaches into his back catalog for "Me and God" and "Long Black Train." Utilising the funeral train as a metaphor to describe the temptations of the devil, the latter is a literary masterpiece. "Me and God" is flaunted for the message's profundity yet nuanced in ways so platable that even a kid could grasp. Though "I Serve a Savior" falls prey to predictability as far as the hymn choices go, the record is redeemed by the originals. Turner really canl turn hearts and ears with his (mostly) superior penmanship.