Over the last three years, country star Josh Turner has released two passion projects near and dear to him. In 2018, he issued his long-awaited gospel album I Serve A Savior, followed by 2020’s classic country covers record, Country State Of Mind. Both produced by Kenny Greenberg, Turner has tapped on the GRAMMY-winning producer once again to dream up his highly anticipated Christmas album, King Size Manger.
Since launching into the scene with his 2003 MCA Nashville debut album Long Black Train, it’s no secret that Turner has had countless requests from fans for a full-length holiday record. What made 2021 the perfect time to make this dream a reality?
“I try not to force things to happen in my career. I try to let things happen naturally. Of course, I’ve always wanted to make a Christmas record. My fans have always asked me for a Christmas record. I’ve always wanted to do it, but I’ve always had too much stuff going on. I’ve had other things I’ve been focused on,” he tells Sounds Like Nashville over the phone, recalling the formative years of his career.
“As a country artist, the main priority is establishing yourself, building your fan base, having a catalog of hits, selling records and just having your name out there. A Christmas record would have just added to my workload throughout the years. But, this year felt like the right time.”
In dreaming up his Christmas record, Turner admits that he was initially intimated Besides, what could he possibly offer to the abundance of seasonal collections already available? Thankfully, after digging a little deeper, he realized that being authentic to his artistry, which typically leans more neotraditional country, was key to making it a record that’s uniquely “Josh Turner.”
Staying true to his artistry, King Size Manger features plenty of country instrumentation, which includes the banjo, fiddle, steel guitar, and acoustic guitar. While longtime fans can agree that its offering is synonymous with Turner’s signature sound, the hitmaker wasn’t always certain of the freshness he could bring to the table. His aim was high: he wanted his Christmas album to be identical to his musical hero’s 1989 collection. Yes, the same country legend he recently recorded “Forever and Ever, Amen” with.
“For years, my template for making a Christmas record [was] Randy Travis’ An Old Time Christmas. It’s my favorite Christmas record and I have a lot of memories attached to that. “But I guess over the years, I had fooled myself into thinking that when I make a Christmas record, it’s basically going to be a Volume 2 of An Old Time Christmas,” he admits with a laugh.
“I quickly came to realize that that was not the proper direction for me. I had to make my own Christmas record- something that really showed who I am, what I’m about, and what I believe.”
With each of the 11 songs intentionally handpicked by Turner, King Size Manger includes renditions of holiday classics and four originals, with the outstanding “Soldier’s Gift” being the only new track he did not write.
Co-written by Travis Hill and Tom Douglas, the heart-rending ballad spotlights the sometimes forgotten sacrifice the U.S. military men and women make for their families during the holidays, especially when Americans are caught up in the festivities while those on active duty are miles away from home.
“Tonight there’s a soldier in a land far away / While the children listen for the bells on a sleigh / We’ve never met ‘em, names not on our list / But you’ll sleep well America, that’s the soldier’s gift,” Turner renders solemnly in the sentimental chorus.
The relatively new song found its way to Greenberg and Turner when they were scouting for new songs to cut for this project. Unsurprisingly, Turner was stopped in his tracks when he heard a demo recording of it for the first time.
“I was just sitting there, listening to this song and I’m like, ‘Man, this is such an interesting approach and direction for a Christmas song.’ I don’t think anyone would expect a story like this on a Christmas record,” the South Carolina native recalls, dubbing the song as a “valuable addition” to King Size Manger. “It’s a tip of the hat to our servicemen and women who are fighting for our freedom. It reminds us that we all take a lot of things for granted sometimes or a lot of times. It just really helps you reset the way you view things.”
Throughout the record, Turner is consistent in maintaining the thematic throughline of his humble holiday offering. Collectively, the nativity of Jesus Chris serves as the anchor for King Size Manger, with its stories delivered in a straight-laced neotraditional country fashion, sans the musical bells and whistles. Don’t expect to hear the big band number like “The Man With The Bag,” or his version of Mariah Carey’s smash hit “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” Turner did not plan on caving into the commercial, secular flares—not even for a split second.
“My goal was to make something that wasn’t a huge departure from all of the other records that I had made. I wanted it to sound musically like a Josh Turner record,” explains the “Your Man” singer. While he knew Christmas records typically have “jazzy chords, a string section, horn section, and jingle bells,” he wanted to step away from that by staying authentic to his sound, brand, and the music he grew up on.
This marked intentionality is evident on tracks throughout King Size Manger. Opener “Angels We Have Heard On High” spotlights The Mavericks’ influence on Turner coupled with raw twang. The ebullient Rhonda Vincent collaboration “Joy To The World” is a two-steppin’ swingin’ tune. “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” is spun with a honky-tonkin’ twist. Turner’s take on “Go Tell It On The Mountain,” while organically stripped down with a piano, Hammond B3 organ and three-person choir, still maintains the delightful spirit-filled effervescence of the holiday favorite.
Another standout on King Size Manger is the poignant and reflective title track, which narrates the humble story of Jesus’ birth. In the Christian faith, the manger is symbolic of the newborn Jesus’ makeshift cradle in an animal stable because his parents, Mary and Joseph, were unable to find a guest room in time. It is this powerful story that Turner and his co-writer Mark Narmore encapsulate immaculately. “There in the hills of Bethlehem / No one had any room for them / They knew that child was a real life changer / Lyin’ there in a king-size manger,” Turner sings with his emotional, unmistakable baritone.
Perhaps unbeknownst to many, the conceptualization and recording of King Size Manger started in the beginning of 2021. The first meeting Turner had with Greenberg took place in January. Soon, they put pedal to the metal in a race against time to ready the album for its year-end release.
“It was [in] late April that we were up against some deadlines. Literally, 22 days was how long it took for me to do everything I had to do in the studio. It was such a whirlwind. That’s the quickest record that I’ve ever made,” Turner recalls, chuckling as he adds that the album artwork, which features him warmly wrapped up in a winter coat and scarf, was shot in the sweltering heat of April when it was “hot and pouring down rain.”
“It was unbelievable how quickly it happened. Now here we are in October and [it’s out]. It’s like, man, it happened really fast!”
As listeners pick up a copy (or stream) King Size Manger, Turner hopes that his humble country Christmas album will find a home in families’ holiday soundtrack and more importantly, serve as a pointed reminder of the reason for the season.
“There’s only a couple of secular songs. The rest of them have a depth and significant meaning to them,” he shares. “I really wanted the lyrics to shine on this record, and I feel like I accomplished that. That’s something I’m really proud of. Hopefully, [King Size Manger] will make an impact on people when they hear it.”
King Size Manger is available now. Purchase physical CDs, including exclusive signed copies and limited edition merchandise here, and stream the album below. To get tickets to Josh Turner’s first-ever Holiday & The Hits Christmas tour this fall, visit joshturner.com/tour.