Grand Ole Opry star Josh Turner says that it’s definitely an emotional moment when he listens to “The River (Of Happiness),” a cut from his just-released Gospel record I Serve A Savior.
“I wanted for there to be a moment on the record where my family could be on there in some capacity,” he tells Billboard. “When I’d listened back to the song I felt like it was the perfect material to feature them on because Jennifer, my wife, and my oldest son, Hampton, had written that, I guess, four years ago. I had heard them play this song before. I had never really listened to the lyrics closely enough to ask myself ‘Did this go on a record of mine?’ That never even crossed my mind until I was working on this project looking for something to feature them on. When I listened to it, I thought ‘This is a really good song.’ They wrote it. They’re going to sing and play on it and all that and I didn’t even feel like I needed to be on it. So, I just let them have their moment so they could shine and so that’s what they did. I think they’ll be proud of it for years to come.”
After recording for over 15 years, Turner says the time just felt right to come out with a Gospel release.
“I was on the heels of my last country record, Deep South. It debuted at No. 1, and ‘Hometown Girl’ went to the top of the singles chart. It just felt right. I felt like it was God’s timing. I didn’t really have any big plans for 2018. This was something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time and just never really felt like I had the time in my schedule to devote to it. I started walking through the process everything just felt totally comfortable and totally natural.”
Turner – an artist who has always professed his faith publicly – sounds very much at home on the album, particularly on “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” and the title cut, which he co-wrote.
“I just made a few minor tweaks to that song lyrically and made it my own and that’s a song that I’ve been familiar with pretty much my whole life growing up in church and singing that song,” he says of the former. Then as far as ‘I Serve a Savior’ goes, I guess that was the newest song on this project. I wrote that with Mark Narmore couple of years ago before I even knew that I was going to be working on this Gospel project. That’s a song that has a special place in my heart because I wrote it and it came from an innocent place. I wasn’t even writing it for this project. I just wanted to write something that was just a modern-day hymn – something that really kind of spoke towards the definition of servitude and what that means. I just tried to drive that one home as much as I possibly could in a space that the song allowed me to do it. There was really a peace on both of those songs.”
Turner admits that there is a little bit of a challenge when recording a song like “Amazing Grace,” which has been cut literally thousands of times. But, as it turned out, he and producer Kenny Greenberg came up with a winning formula.
“It’s kind of funny because I went to Kenny and said, ‘There’s two ways I can envision doing this song. It’s either really kind of low key just really stripped down almost like a lullaby. Or we can rock it out like Waylon Jennings would.’ And he said, ‘Well, why don’t we do both?’ I thought, ‘How are we going to do both?’ That’s pretty much what happened. The first verse I’m doing is just the string guitar and that first verse is 3/4 time, and then we transition to 4/4 time and come in with a full band and do the rest of it that way. We captured the two ways that I could have envisioned doing this song all at once.”
Another song on I Serve A Savior that has a deep meaning for Turner is “I Pray My Way Out Of Trouble,” which features bluegrass legend Bobby Osborne on harmony.
“That one is from a hymn record that the Osborne Brothers did back in the late ’60s. That record was a part of my granny’s huge record collection. She had bluegrass and country and Southern Gospel and all kinds of stuff like that. Outside of church, that was my introduction to the world of music. That type of music just always really stuck with me and that’s where my heart’s always been. When I started thinking about songs that I wanted to put on this record, I started going back to some of those records that were in her collection and I came across this song. And I was like, ‘Man, you know this song could really use a fresh approach.’ I felt like it was a great song. I felt like it was well written. Then I started doing research into it and I found out that Loretta Lynn and Teddy Wilburn had actually written it. That made me love the song even more. Then when Bobby agreed to come in and sing on it I was just over the moon about it.”
Having such a legend as Osborne on the album is a feeling that Turner treasures.
“That was a moment where I just felt like everything had just come full circle. Bobby Osborne’s voice was one of the first voices I ever heard coming through a speaker. Here he is, 86 years old, and still going strong and singing on the track so it’s a pretty good feeling.”
At the same time the album is being released, Turner is partnering with Gaither Music for an accompanying DVD. Getting to work with the Gospel stalwart was an equally rewarding experience. “I didn’t really have a relationship with Bill before this project, but he’s just one of those guys that when you meet him you just feel like you know him your whole life. He just makes you feel right at home. He makes you feel very comfortable. It just felt there was a kinship there. It was just an honor and a pleasure to be able to not only work with him, but to rub elbows with him.”
Now, with the release out, Turner plans on promoting the new music the only way he knows.
“I’ve already started incorporating songs from the record into my live shows and we’ve got several dates left for this year and we’ve already been booking dates for next year so I’ll be out on the road continuing to spread the word about this record.”