This article has been updated.
It isn’t just the steel guitar and twang that has been bled out of the sonic profile of the modern versions of today’s country music. It’s a host of legacies that have been left by the wayside like a trail of hastily-discarded clothing articles leading to country’s bedding down with pop in a passionate tryst. Gospel music once was a proud foundation of country. From the hymnals of churches to the field songs of former black slaves, the chanting, praise, and salvation of Gospel constituted one of the everlasting cornerstones of country.
So did the greatest singers of a generation, who would be sought after with zeal, and plucked out of the countryside to be set in front of microphones and shepherded to stardom—singers like Josh Turner, whose voice carries with it a signature tone that warms you like the hearth of your childhood home, and can deftly handle the most deep and difficult registers of the human voice, awakening spiritual salvation simply by its sound.
Also missing from much of today’s country music is a passion for the material being presented. Since songs are often written or co-written by others, orientated for radio, and presented in the fashion producers dictate as opposed to the artists themselves, the performers feel no real ownership in the sentiments, or how they’re being conveyed. They’re simply vessels. Josh Turner didn’t write many of the songs that appear on I Serve a Savior, but that’s not the point of this album. It’s to capture Josh Turner’s passion for praise music that he’s illustrated throughout his career, and to this end, it is a success.
Don’t exclusively think of I Serve a Savior, or really any Gospel album simply as a religious exercise. Don’t overly secularize it either. But understand listening to someone singing passionately about their faith is not proselytizing, it’s an expression of personal belief and heritage, often with themes that can touch anyone, including non-believers, or those of other denominations.
Josh Turner does a great job on I Serve a Savior to make Gospel music that is accessible, not just from the passion that you can feel coming through his performances, or his voice that puts signature touches on old standards such as “I Saw The Light,” and the super low tones he perfects on “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” But the twangy, almost Outlaw arrangement of “Amazing Grace” makes for not just another version of a song performed scores of times, it’s Josh Turners version.
This album also has some sleepy and unremarkable moments that you will might pass over unless you’re a dedicated Gospel music fan. A song like “Great Is Your Faithfulness” is a little too straightforward to allow them to rise above other versions of this song. When making a record of Gospel standards, perhaps you don’t want to get too crazy on each track, and turn away the primary constituency.
Josh Turner’s future in country music is just about as unsure as Gospel’s. His version of country, like so many of country’s traditions, has been lost in the shuffle. He’s had to compromise at times to keep his career on a major label going. But on I Serve A Savior there is no compromise. He gets a moment to do something he’s been waiting almost 20 years to do, which is to combine his faith with his gift for music, and his passion and sincerity shows through in the results.
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