The man with the biggest, most distinctive bass voice in country since Johnny Cash is back with album number three. Josh Turner scored big with the "Long Black Train" on his debut and took it over the top with the two big singles off his breakthrough sophomore album "Your Man," (the title track) and the monstrous hit "Would You Go with Me." While it's true that Turner kept producer Frank Rogers on board, along with mixing king Justin Niebank and many of the same musicians, there is still more of his actual personality on Everything Is Fine than on his previous albums put together. Interestingly, Turner has made very few concessions to the modern Nashville sound of big rolling guitars that are compressed to the point of being brittle, echo-laden drums and Hammond B-3s that all try to simulate the '70s sound of Southern rock. The opposite is true here. Turner is a country singer from the old school whose singing can be traced back through Randy Travis and George Strait to Merle Haggard, George Jones, and the great honky tonk singers. If anything, the music on Everything Is Fine is what Nashville's hit music should sound like in the 21st century. It uses the best technology has to offer in terms of clarity, but not at the expense of acoustic and electric stringed musical instruments sounding like themselves: Telecasters sound like Telecasters, pedal steel guitars sound like Sho-Bud's, banjos, mandolins, and unplugged six-strings, all come off sounding natural. But that's only the production angle.
It's songs that make a record and this set is stacked with them. Turner wrote or co-wrote seven of the dozen tunes here. These include the sizzling fiddle and electric guitar stomping shuffle of "Firecracker," written with Shawn Camp (another part of the steady stable here) and Pat McLaughlin, and the banjo, steel, fiddle-drenched title number that opens the set (with Wes Hightower's backing vocals that double up the down-low basso profundo to stellar effect). It's an honest to goodness country song that is picaresque, relaxed, and feels authentic. Then there's his "only-in-country" burning, modern honky tonker "Trailerhood." There's a moving duet with Trisha Yearwood on "Another Try," written by Jeremy Spillman and Chris Stapleton. It's a love song with gorgeous dobro and fiddles that build to a crescendo of strings (countrypolitan did a lot of that once upon a time) whose sound is the only concession to the postmodern, post-country sonics of modern Music City, but, since it's a ballad, they are entirely appropriate and effective It's a destined hit. Yearwood, who is singing better in 2007 that at any time in her career (perhaps because she is unfettered by no longer being part of the "star system"), adds exponentially to this song emotionally and texturally. And Turner can write a love song: "Soulmate" is among the most direct and spare tunes in his résumé, but its natural soul and depth is refreshing and clean as well as romantic. There's also a popping cover of Johnny Horton and Tillman Franks' "One Woman Man" from way back in 1956. This is the tune that offers proof positive that Turner is a vocalist and writer who descends from the grand tradition. It's only two-and-a-half minutes long, but it rocks, rolls, and struts like a rooster in a barnyard. Everything Is Fine is the jewel in Turner's brief career so far; it's consistent, soulful, and natural. When it busts the sales field wide open (and it will), hopefully Nashville's label heads will follow A&R boss Luke Lewis' lead and let artists of this caliber make more of their own decisions.