“Ladies and gentlemen,” booms the voice of noted boxing ring announcer Michael Buffer as the introduction for Josh Turner’s new album Punching Bag. “Fighting out of the traditional country music corner…the tornado of testosterone, the bone-shaking baritone…let’s get ready to RUM-BLE, with the unmistakable voice of JOOOOSSSH TURRRNERRRR!”
…Aaand that’s about as exciting as it gets, folks.
It pains me to say it, because I am a fan of traditional country, and Josh Turner does happen to be one of the few young gents who can still sell records to country fans without desecrating his sound with rock and pop. And to his credit, the music alone on Punching Bag is plain old good country and bluegrass, and Turner’s “bone-shaking baritone” does justice to the songs. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that there’s just not that much else to get excited about.
Unfortunately, Josh Turner is one of those artists who has become more known for what isn’t on his records than what is on them. In his attempts to keep his content family-friendly (with the occasional faith-based message thrown in for good measure), Turner notably avoids songs about partying, drinking and sex. Nothing wrong with that—I’m all for wholesome, family-friendly entertainment. But the operative word here is entertainment. The problem is that with the absence of all that bad stuff on the album, there’s not much to replace it. It’s all “family-friendly,” and no “entertainment.” You can’t make a good album simply by avoiding certain content; there has to be something of substance to replace what you took out.
And that’s the rub with Punching Bag; the songs just sort of sit there and don’t go anywhere. As a result, the underlying (and no doubt unintended) message comes through loud and clear: wholesome is boring. I find that extremely unfortunate, quite frankly, because I don’t believe a song has to be raunchy to be engaging and entertaining. Wholesome certainly can be entertaining; sadly, it just doesn’t happen here on this record. Sadly, Punching Bag lacks…well…punch.
Perhaps the saddest part of all this is that Josh Turner is a truly talented artist, and deserves more attention than he gets. You have to respect the man’s convictions and unwillingness to compromise on certain points, but there are other ways to be wholesome without falling into the snare of milquetoast mediocrity. Even the Bible itself has some content that defies modern religion’s standards of “wholesome.” Just saying.
ALBUM RATING: 2 Stars (out of five)