Josh Turner

Punching Bag

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Josh Turner had number one hits prior to Haywire but that 2010 set had two chart-toppers -- the swinging "Why Don't We Just Dance" and "All Over Me" -- and not long after its release, American Idol contestant (and eventual winner) Scotty McCreery patterned himself after Turner, singing his "Your Man" and "Long Black Train," pushing his idol into the spotlight. And Punching Bag, his 2012 sequel to Haywire, certainly is polished like a pop record, its surfaces bright and filled with gimmicks, all beginning with ringside announcer Michael Buffer opening the proceedings and running right through Turner's bottomless baritone dip as he sings that there's nothing "Deeper Than My Love." Also, there is the faint but evident trace of Auto-Tune throughout, popping up most glaringly on a chorus of singing babies that turns the already cloying "Find Me a Baby" into a stomach-churningly sweet concoction. Turner possesses some mighty charm but it's not enough to turn that one into something listenable and he stumbles into a couple other potholes here too, all created by the desire to turn him into a big cutesy teddy bear, a guy who claims he's a punching bag but sounds like he'd rather cuddle than fight. When these cheery accouterments are stripped away, Turner remains a capable classic country crooner -- "Cold Shoulder" is a straight-up slice of tear-in-your-beer honky tonk, "Whatcha Reckon" is bright hooky pop, "For the Love of God" flirts with folk-flavored progressive country -- but even those run the risk of being digitally flattened, all in attempt to play to the widest possible audience. He's strong enough of a personality to weather this production and it's likely he'll be rewarded commercially, but he'll be better off a couple years down the road when he can just lay back and sing, not worried about pleasing all the people all the time.

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