Josh Turner’s new album, Country State of Mind, serves several purposes for the country singer. First it allows him to record some of his favorite songs by his favorite musical heroes. Second, it gives him the opportunity to introduce these country classics to a whole new generation of country fans. Turner’s son Marion is a good example of what the singer hopes to accomplish with the album.
“Marion’s favorite song on the record is ‘Desperately,’ and that is a first-hand reminder of what I want to accomplish with this record,” Turner tells Sounds Like Nashville. “Lots of fans who will hear these songs will be hearing them for the first time. They may not be familiar with the artists who recorded the songs. I want to kind of use this record to introduce fans to stuff they aren’t family with. That’s always an objective of mine; whether or not I accomplish it is out of my control.
“As far as timing, it’s perfect timing,” the singer continues. “Lot of people have been chomping at the bit for something like this. They welcome these old songs that conjure up good memories and warm feelings.”
The album was conceived last summer, and once the label approved the concept Turner began choosing songs. Of course, he picked tunes from what he calls his Mount Rushmore of Country Music. Five faces would be carved into Turner’s tribute to who he considers the greatest in country music royalty — Randy Travis, John Anderson, Johnny Cash, Vern Gosdin and Hank Williams. The first song he recorded was Gosdin’s “I Can Tell By The Way You Dance (You’re Gonna Love Me Tonight),” the first of three number ones for Gosdin. While Gosdin was known for his ballads, this song is a complete turnaround for him.
“’I Can Tell By the Way You Dance’ is one of his greatest recordings ever,” maintains Turner. “I’ve always wanted to give that song a rebirth and new treatment. Lyrically and melodically it is timeless, but it is bogged down in its aged production. We modernized it and I feel like this new version of mine could be a hit today.”
There was no doubt that Turner would record Randy Travis’ classic signature song, “Forever and Ever, Amen.” Little did he realize he would be making history when Travis joined him in the studio to record it with him.
“Randy and I have been friends a long time, so it was easy to make the call to ask him if he would sing on this record. I had visions of Randy being at different events in Nashville coming up on stage to sing the last word of the song and the crowd going crazy. I gave Randy the option of singing more than that last word and he said nope. While we were recording it, I realized that this was the first time he had been in the studio since his stroke and that was when I realized we were making history. It was a very emotional moment.”
Travis says he was so flattered that Josh would choose one of his songs for this project. “Everything Josh does is his own, including this one of ‘Forever and Ever, Amen.’ His friendship is a great blessing to me—his music is a great blessing to the world. I’m just glad I could be a part of it!”
As far as being in Turner’s Mount Rushmore of Country Music, Travis jokes, “I did record a song called, “Chiseled In Stone,” but it sure wasn’t me on Mt. Rushmore!” He goes on to say, “Josh gives me a lot more credit than I deserve, and I appreciate that so much. When he gets to be my age, they’ll have to carve a spot for him on it, too!”
The Kris Kristofferson song “Why Me” features the Country Music Hall of Famer, a thrill for Turner. “I’ve been friends with Kris and his wife Lisa for a long time,” he says. “After I had recorded the song, we were trying to decide who would come in and sing on some of the tracks. I texted Lis and asked her if she thought Kris would be a part of the song, and she texted back ‘when and where?’ He did his part in Hawaii. It turned out to be a great track and is probably one of my favorites as far as what we captured on this record. He didn’t have to say yes. It’s still surreal to have somebody of his stature on my record. Just pretty incredible.”
Turner was right on target when he invited Runaway June to join him on the Patty Loveless hit, “You Don’t Seem To Miss Me.” Jennifer Wayne texted him right back, saying the song was literally one of her favorite songs of all time. “She told me they would love to be on the song,” Turner recalls. “It took awhile to get them in the studio because that was around the time Hannah (Mulholland) was leaving the group and Natalie Stovall was coming in. Plus everything was shutting down because of the Covid virus and there were all kinds of travel restrictions and it was different in every state. It was a challenge to get them together but it was important to me to do that. It was worth the wait. They came in, we bounced ideas off each other, and it turned out to be a great cut. They sound incredible.”
It was important to Turner to include new artists on the album as well as the veteran entertainers. “I’ve done shows with all of them, gotten to know them, and learned their appreciation for the music that came before them. And they are all genuinely good people. I love being around them, they are fun and extremely talented. I chose them on a song by song basis, based on who I thought would fit the song.”
Turner and Chris Janson had performed “Country State of Mind” in Georgia so he thought they had to get him in the studio to recreate that moment. Maddie & Tae are from Texas and Oklahoma, and he thought they would be perfect for the George Strait hit “Desperately.” The song was written by Texas songwriters Monte Warden and Bruce Robison, the latter being one of Turner’s favorite writers. “I heard his version of the song first and loved it, and then George cut it and had a hit with it. It is my tribute to George and Bruce. I just knew Maddie & Tae would understand the song and they did – they knocked it out of the park.”
Interestingly, “Desperately” was one of the hardest songs for Turner to sing for the album. “There is no where to breathe or swallow through that whole song,” he explains. “I don’t know how Bruce or George ever sang it live. When I was recording it I thought ‘What have I got myself into?’ I probably won’t be singing that one live!”
Warden says that artistically, he loves Turner’s singing and was excited when he learned that the singer was cutting “Desperately.”
“As a songwriter, to have this major artist who has an incredible original sound, say one of your songs is one of his favorite tunes, is incredible. ‘Desperately’ is the newest song on this record; it was a hit 16 years ago with Strait. Millions of country music fans that have never heard it will now know it as a Josh Turner song and that is cool.
“I think the album is gonna be something really special. Fans of traditional country music are dying for traditional country music and God bless Josh for making a record of straight-up country songs. I’m excited about this album — it’s genius for Josh to do this. It will do the country music a world of good. I think it’s gonna be a big ole album for him, and we are blessed and humbled to be on it.”
With “Desperately” being the newest song on the album, Turner reached way back in the catalogs of Johnny Cash and Hank Williams Sr. for the songs he chose from these iconic artists. “Most everyone has heard Hank Williams hits, but when they hear “Alone and Forsaken” (featuring Allison Moorer), music fans will understand that there is more to Hank than those hits.
“The same way with Cash … I could have done any one of his hits, but an artist like Johnny Cash gives me the opportunity to open the eyes of my fans and listeners to a deeper catalog. Cash was a lover of songs, and as a fan of his, he taught me to love songs and capture the heart of the song. ‘The Caretaker’ was a great song to do that. It’s easy to go in the studio and sing but it’s a responsibility to go in there and give your time and effort and pour your heart and soul into the song.”
Turner has been on the road for 20 years, and he admits that when the pandemic caused touring to shut down, it was an initial shock to him. While enjoying the time off and being able to spend time with his family, the entertainer says he is ready to be back on the road. “Fans are ready to go to a show. It might look a little different, we might have to do things different from before, but nothing will ever replace live music.”
View this post on Instagram
When we are on tour, we like to make stops along the way and visit monuments and national parks. A few years ago we got to visit Montgomery, AL to visit #hankwilliams hometown. #mountrushmoreofcountrymusic #countrystateofmind #joshturner #aloneandforesaken #throwbackthursday
The singer offers a positive attitude about the things the world has gone through these past months. “I’m a fan of history, and there have been hard times throughout history in a variety of ways. We’ve suffered through a lot of things. Yeah, this is a tough time. We are out of work, people afraid to go outside of their house. People afraid to get sick. There’s a lot of risk involved. And that is understandable, but we as a people need to realize that once we get past this we will look back and say ‘that didn’t last as long as it seemed to’.
“We need to keep our chin up, stay positive, encourage one another, and most importantly don’t miss the lessons we are being taught today. A lot of time we get caught up in worrying about tomorrow and what the future holds, when Jesus said not to worry about tomorrow because today has enough trouble of its own. Sometimes when we complain and worry about tomorrow, we miss lessons we could learn and the blessings we have. Things could be a lot worse.”
While the CD of Country State of Mind released August 21, a vinyl edition will be available September 18. As an added twist, there will also be a custom Country State of Mind record player available in case fans want to update or get their first player.