Last week, country music star Josh Turner's fifth album Punching Bag debuted on the Billboard country albums chart at No. 1, ahead of big-gun acts Carrie Underwood, Alan Jackson, Eric Church and Jason Aldean. But the good news didn't end there. Punching Bag also crossed over, entering the all-genre Billboard 200 at No. 4, placing him in the company of Usher, Adele, Rush and Neil Young.
A South Carolina native whose fascination with music began with singing in his church choir, Turner used the 2003 single Long Black Train as his calling card. Loaded with strong traditional imagery and lyricism that sounded custom-made for the bass and baritone depths of his singing, the song took Turner to the stage of the Grand Ole Opry nearly two years before radio embraced it.
"The first music I heard was in church, obviously. Beyond that, my daddy's mom had a huge record collection filled with Southern gospel, bluegrass and traditional country. That really laid the foundation for me. The music was so earthy. Then when I got into my teens, I started listening to county radio. That was the first time I heard people like Randy Travis sing. From that point on, I was hooked.
"But I was also working on a farm with a lot of blacks and Mexicans, and loved all the soul and mariachi songs they would sing. I would study all of that music. I think you can hear the R&B and soul influences throughout my records. Haven't done any mariachi songs yet, but I try to put as many of these different influences as I can into what I do."
Two significant country/Americana traditionalists contribute to the album; the vocals of Iris DeMent and the mandolin leads and solos of Marty Stuart.
"Iris is different in that she's not in the country mainstream, so a lot of my fans probably won't know who she is," Turner said. "But she has this great lonesome, twangy kind of sound that blended in perfectly. And Marty just has a way of taking the mandolin back to pre-bluegrass times to that Italian style of playing — a style with lots of single notes that lets the mandolin really ring out. It's very ethereal and thought-provoking and became one of the things that made this record sound really cool."
Iris Dement happens to be playing at the Iron Horse in Northampton on August 30th and Marty Stuart makes it to Northampton every two years or so as well.
Tickets for Josh Turner at Mountain Park in Holyoke on Friday, August 3rd at 8PM are $57.50, $47.50, $37.50 at Northampton Box Office, 76 Main Street, 413 586 8686 and online at IHEG.com