“American Honey” is the name of Lady Antebellum’s current single, but it could just as well describe Josh Turner’s voice. He has one of those deep, supple voices that make people compare it to molasses or honey, and use words like supple. He has never sounded better than on his current hit, “Why Don’t We Just Dance”. It’s a combination of the swinging rhythm and the song’s beckoning tone that makes Turner sound so relaxed and in control. The song also contains an escapist message that seems just right for our times. His call to dance is as much a call to forget about the troubles of the world for a moment. He sings:
Baby why don’t we just turn that TV off?
315 channels of nothing but bad news on
Well it might be me but the way I see it
The whole wide world has gone crazy
So baby why don’t we just dance?
Of course, as high school principals in movies have warned us for years, dancing leads to sex, so soon enough the couple in the song is dancing right up the stairs to the bedroom.
The domestic setting of that song is the dominant one for the album, which is essentially a collection of love songs for couples at home, with breaks taken for parenting (“I’ll Be There”), vacation (“All Over Me”), Friday nights out on the town (“Friday Paycheck”), and Jesus (“The Answer”); all parts of your average middle-of-the-road American couple’s life, I suppose. Among those couple-y songs I guess I’m including two brisk, frisky songs about how revved up she gets him: the title track and “Eye Candy”. On another album those songs might seem like summer-day flirting anthems. They do here too, but the presence of baby-I-love-you-forever songs like “I Wouldn’t Be a Man”, “Your Smile”, and “As Fast as I Could”, not to mention the one about being a father, makes the whole album feel like it was cut from the same domestic cloth.
It feels like an album about a couple, one living a rather ordinary life at that. These are people who speak about love in Hallmark clichés, whether it’s passion (the soul ballad “Lovin’ You on My Mind”) or destiny (“As Fast as I Could”) that they’re discussing. That takes us back to Turner’s voice. He has a way of making pedestrian lyrics feel meaningful, or at least of getting us to ignore the clichés because he sounds really good singing them over this music.
Comfort is the chief theme of Haywire. There’s a little sex, a little faith, a little fun, but mostly it’s comfort, dependability, and security. This is what the dancing song is about: the security that another person represents in a time of uncertainty. “I’ll Be There” presents parenting as all about that level of comfort, about being there for your child’s every need. For a pretty sappy song, Turner sings it in a refreshingly un-sappy way.
“Your Smile” represents that message of comfort in another person in an especially vivid way. It’s the other song on Haywire besides “Why Don’t We Just Dance” where the songwriting itself is strong, not just something to overcome with good singing. Akin to the detail in Luke Bryan’s recent agricultural-focused LP Doin’ My Thing or in Easton Corbin’s current hit “A Little More Country Than That”, “Your Smile” is all about conjuring up specific comforting images. Turner is singing of the ‘simple joys of life’ — nature, food, childhood memories — and comparing those to the feeling he gets when he sees his lover smile. The song, written by Elliot Park, is pleasantly specific: “Like Christmas morning, sparklin’ red and bright / And Grandpa’s pipe / And my first bike”.
The song’s whistling, front-porch feeling inhabits the rest of the album as well. There is a carefree feeling to Haywire that’s infectious, that makes the album’s ordinariness not matter. Turner stands at the head of the album as a calming presence, reminding us of another way that people can comfort each other: by recording music for others to take solace in. Turner’s voice is one of those simple pleasures he sings about, “right there with butter beans and cherry pie”.