In this series, I will present the reviews of big albums reviewed weekly as part of Country Jukebox Jury. You can hear me talk about all types of country – poppy, bluegrass, rock, Texan, Canadian and British – every week at Facebook.com/acountrywayoflife
Josh Turner – Country State of Mind
In 2019 Josh Turner headlined The Long Road then lost a valuable member of his crew in a road accident weeks later. He was promoting a spiritual record called I Serve A Savior, and Josh is a man of God whose piety is explicit rather than implied. He is also a fan of country music and knows his history, as evidenced by the tracks which have been released in the months leading up to the full project which is finally out now.
The big headline is his version of Forever And Ever Amen featuring Randy Travis adding the final amen. Josh is definitely in the ‘new trad’ tradition and displays it over the course of 12 tracks on Country State of Mind.
Aside from Randy, Josh ropes in the following stars: John Anderson on the rockin’ I’ve Got It Made; an octogenarian Kris Kristofferson on Why Me, where Josh hits some very low notes indeed; Allison Moorer on Hank Williams’ plea to the Lord, Alone and Forsaken; Runaway June on You Don’t Seem To Miss Me, written by the great Jim Lauderdale; Maddie & Tae on Desperately, where the harmonies are terrific; and Chris Janson on Country State of Mind, which was written and performed by Hank Williams Jr, the new Country Music Hall of Fame inductee.
I still love I Can Tell By The Way You Dance and I’m No Stranger To The Rain, from stars of the 1980s Vern Gosdin and Keith Whitley respectively. Like Randy Travis, Alan Jackson has now passed into the realm of classic country. His story song about ‘a drunk man in a cowboy hat’ (who could it be??) Midnight in Montgomery is placed in between Forever and Ever and the theme to Dukes of Hazzard, originally a huge hit for its writer Waylon Jennings in 1980.
The album ends with the Johnny Cash song The Caretaker. It’s as if he is channelling John’s spirit, changing the name to Josh in a song about what happens after he dies. This is a tremendous collection of covers which introduced me to at least three fine songs which I had never heard before. Long live country in the pre-Garth era! There’s gold in them vinyl records. 5/5
The Mavericks – En Español
The Mavericks are today on Mono, their own label, and tour the world with their Texmex grooves which mix country, Mariachi and the blues. Last year they put out their covers album, mixing songs by Waylon, Bruce and Elvis; before that was a Christmas album full of original compositions.
I caught them touring Brand New Day in 2017 at the Indigo2 which was packed with rich melodies sung by the wonderful Raul Malo. In 2020 their next trick is an album of Spanish-language songs written by the band. A useful tool was a dictionary from the 1940s!
The first brass note comes in just after the two-minute mark of the opening song La Sitiera, whose final minute is an excellent introduction to what the band are trying to do. No Vale la Pena and Cuando Me Enamoro add some accordion. This album has more horns than a Mark Ronson project, with some real echo in the studio, and Raul demonstrating that his should be considered one of the great voices of the last 50 years.
He told NPR that he used to speak in Spanish to his Cuban grandma. There is a cover of Me Olvide de Vivir (I Forgot to Live) originally by Julio Iglesias, which was Raul’s grandpa’s favourite song. It reminds me of On The Road Again or Gentle On My Mind and is a good starting point if you want to dip into the album.
My Spanish is atrocious but you get the general gist of what Raul is singing about from the titles alone: Recuerdos (Memories), the chirpy Poder Vivir (To Live), minor-key ballad Sombras Nada Mas (No More Than Shadows), infectious shuffle of Mujer (Lady), the sultry Sabor a Mi (Give Me a Taste) and Suspiro Azul (the mysterious Blue Sigh).
Cuande Me Enamoro translates as Timeless Love, which is a universal language. It is a beautiful, beautiful piece of music. Listen if you don’t believe me – it’s track 11 of En Espanol – and the best bit is when Raul sings in English over the fade!! Tantalisingly the final track fades too, as if the band are riding off into the sunset.
Just as In The Heights by Lin-Manuel Miranda was a thankyou to his own grandparents, so En Español is the Mavericks attempting to do the same. If you liked the movie Coco or the Buena Vista Social Club guys, please take time to enjoy another fine record from an American treasure. Arriva! No need to travel with En Español. Cinco out of Cinco aka 5/5