Josh Turner rocked the Ryman Auditorium — repeatedly — Thursday night (April 19) as he and his road band recorded a live album for his 2007 tour sponsor.
The 90-minute show at Nashville’s storied music venue drew a nearly full house that sometimes roared like a packed stadium. Despite his generally low-key presence, Turner exhibited all the magnetism of a budding superstar.
The album, which was recorded for sale exclusively in Cracker Barrel Old Country Store restaurants, will be available in early July. Turner’s current album, Your Man, has been certified double platinum for shipments of 2 million copies to retailers.
Turner opened his 21-song program with “Would You Go With Me,” and the crowd — especially the women — began cheering wildly every time his voice dropped to that booming bass level. Backing him was a six-piece band that included his wife Jennifer on keyboards and background vocals. Turner, his hair closely cropped, was dressed in blue jeans, with a tan T-shirt pulled over a long-sleeved white sweatshirt.
The South Carolina-born singer provided some geographical references with “Way Down South” and “Backwoods Boy.” In the latter, when he ad libbed, “I’m waitin’ on a backwoods girl,” several hundred would-be’s screamed out their candidacy.
Beginning with his next song, an earnest rendering of Merle Haggard’s “Silver Wings,” Turner sprinkled his show with covers of country standards. It was a reflection of the fact that he is still only two albums deep into his career and simply doesn’t have that many hits to parade yet.
Turner continued with the daffy “Loretta Lynn’s Lincoln” and the celebratory “White Noise” (which he reminded the crowd he had written with his “hero,” John Anderson).
He then moved on to “She’ll Go on You,” noting that the Mark Narmore song had been his first single.
“It debuted at No. 45 and then fell off the charts,” he lamented. “That’s just the new-artist blues, I guess.”
Turner took his biggest risk when he sang “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” After all, what are the odds of one-upping George Jones? Still, he managed to stamp it with his own style, even if he didn’t achieve Jones’ intensity. And the crowd was with him all the way.
Hearing yet another shout of “I love you,” Turner quipped, “I would say I love you, too, but I can’t see you.” If that remark wasn’t gauche enough, he compounded the insensitivity by adding, “My dad says life’s too short to be with an ugly girl.” It was the one sour note of the evening.
At this point, the band members left their stations and arranged themselves on stools in a semicircle around Turner. In this configuration, they sang two inspirational songs — “Me and God,” Turner’s current single, and another of his compositions, “Church in the Holler,” which he said is only in the demo stage.
Turner recalled he first played the Ryman on Dec. 21, 2001, and had gotten “two standing ovations and an encore” from the Grand Ole Opry audience. He hastened to add that he wasn’t telling this out of vanity.
“All I could think about was the six ovations Hank Williams got standing right here,” he said. Later, he observed, “Hank got kicked off the Opry, and I can’t get in.”
Keeping with the Hank Williams theme, Turner sang “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive” and dedicated it to Luke Lewis, the head of his record label and a Williams enthusiast. He recounted that when he first met Lewis, he presented him with a Hank Williams bobblehead doll.
Turner then segued into his breakthrough hit, “Long Black Train.” Apparently oblivious to the song’s doleful theme, the crowd stood, swayed, clapped and sang along as though they were enlivening a nursery rhyme.
The program rolled on with “Lord Have Mercy on a Country Boy,” “Angels Fall Sometimes,” “What It Ain’t” and “Gravity.” Turner then capped the show with a medley embracing “I Can Tell by the Way You Dance (You’re Gonna Love Me Tonight),” “Just to Satisfy You,” “One Woman Man” and “Got My Mojo Workin’.”
When Turner and the band left the stage, the crowd rose to its feet and cheered incessantly until they all came back. There was nothing polite or pro forma about the ovation. The fans clearly wanted more, and Turner gave it to them with an extended and seductive rendition of “Your Man” that had the room reverberating with cheers and stamping feet.
It should be some album.