Instead of struggling to write another "Long Black Train" to spark his second album, Josh Turner decided on a more relaxed approach. He opted for a handful of love songs, a few tributes to country living and a couple of pieces designed strictly for laughs.
The result is Your Man, an album that recently made its bow on the Billboard chart at No. 1 and currently stands at No. 2. And just this week, the title track hit No. 1 on Billboard's country albums chart.
"Long Black Train" was both the title song and first hit from Turner's 2003 debut album. That project eventually shipped more than 1 million copies. While all that was happening, other artists latched onto the stark, sepulchral "Train" as though they had discovered a lost Hank Williams lyric. More than a dozen acts have recorded the song (including Bobby Osborne of the Osborne Brothers), and many more have incorporated it into their live shows.
The overwhelming success of "Train" enabled Turner to look toward his sophomore album with confidence. But it caused him some trepidation, too.
"Nobody put any real pressure on me as far as expectations," he explains, "but I did put a lot of pressure on myself to capture all the good things that we were able to capture on the first record. ... It finally dawned on me that all this pressure was really unnecessary. So I just decided to get in the frame of mind that I didn't have to recreate Long Black Train or top it or outdo it or anything of that nature."
Turner wrote or co-wrote five of Your Man's 11 songs. Other contributors are Shawn Camp (who co-wrote four), Bob McDill, Mark D. Sanders, John Scott Sherrill, Mark Narmore, Mark Nesler, Tony Martin, Billy Burnette, Brice Long, Herb McCullough, Chris Stapleton, Chris DuBois, Jace Everett and "Swingin'" John Anderson.
Anderson contacted Turner through a mutual friend after seeing the "Long Black Train" music video.
"He said, 'I'd love to meet this boy,'" Turner continues, "and so we set up a time for me to be taken out to his house. ... We sat around and played some songs back and forth on our guitars and had a good old time." The first song the two wrote together was "White Noise," a rousing cheer to traditional country music, which he and Anderson wound up singing together on the album.
Turner says he got the idea for "White Noise" while he was in his truck listening to a live Ernest Tubb recording from 1965.
"He was performing at some place up in Seattle, Wash., I believe," Turner says. "And there was all this background noise going on during the concert. You could hear chairs sliding in and out from under tables. And they were obviously able to eat at this show [because] you could hear silverware clanging, and you could hear the big flashbulbs going off that they used to have on cameras back then. It kind of created all this character within the show. Then I got to thinking. White noise has a technological meaning and definition, but at the same time, Ernest Tubb is white noise and George Jones is white noise and Johnny Cash and Haggard and even Charley Pride.
"When country music first began, a lot of the black blues musicians ... in the South would refer to it as 'the white man's blues.'... On my visit with Charley Pride, he expressed to me that when he first got into country music, his family gave him more of a hard time than the country music industry because ... they were saying to him, 'Hey, why are you going over there and singing their music?' He responded by saying, 'Their music? It's my music, too.' In my mind, Charley was more country than people like Red Foley and Tennessee Ernie Ford. It's not about the color of skin. It's about a sound."
Another of the album's highlights is "Me and God," which he sings with Ralph Stanley. Turner also wrote the song.
"When I was growing up, my daddy's mama used to babysit me," Turner relates. "She was a big fan of country and bluegrass and Southern gospel. One of the records she had in her house was the Stanley Brothers' Good Old Camp Meeting Songs. That was a kind of musical foundation for me. Ever since, I've always been a Stanley Brothers and Dr. Ralph fan. He and I got to know each other from playing the [Grand Ole] Opry together."
By far the lightest moment on Your Man is the goofy and cinematic "Loretta Lynn's Lincoln," a fantasy whipped up by Camp and Sanders. Turner says that both his producer, Frank Rogers, and the head of A&R at his label, MCA Records, pitched him the song. "The first time I heard it," he recalls, "I was with my wife Jennifer, and we both thought it was a hilarious story and just an incredible piece of work."
Although Turner promised himself he wouldn't record any cover songs for the new album, he ended up doing two of them -- an arrangement of the Don Williams 1991 hit, "Lord Have Mercy on a Country Boy," that is distinctly Turner's own, and a remake of "Baby's Gone Home to Mama," originally a cut on John Anderson's 2001 album, Nobody's Got It All.
Turner is scheduled to work Brad Paisley's Time Well Wasted tour in May. He will also open a few dates for Gary Allan and Trace Adkins during the spring. Mostly, though, he plans to headline his own shows. He speculates that his next single will be "Would You Go With Me."