When offered the opportunity to review some country music for Popdose, I was excited. Our site does not have a bias against any particular genre (obviously), but it’s rather apparent that most of our writers have deep roots in rock and roll. I’m no expert on today’s country sound, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate and love country music. My iPod has music by Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris and Willie Nelson; alt-country acts such as Lyle Lovett, Lucinda Wiliams and Uncle Tupelo, plus albums by newer superstars like Carrie Underwood, the Dixie Chicks and Sugarland. So, even though I’m not a country musicologist, I feel like I can give you all an honest opinion of music that drops in my mailbox and steer you toward it or away. I suppose this will be a periodic column, as I don’t know what will be coming my way.

Let’s get started:

Josh Turner has a rich, deep voice that wraps itself around you like a blanket and makes you feel cozy. It’s the first thing you notice when you listen to any of his music. Turner burst on to the country scene in 2003 with his debut album, Long Black Train. That album went platinum, as did the two that followed, Your Man and Everything is Fine. Turner returns with his latest album, Haywire, and the first single, ”Why Don’t We Dance” is already a top ten hit for the country artist. The song — an upbeat, danceable number — fits the mold of most modern country. With plenty of fiddle, steel guitar and a shuffle beat, I’m sure it’s already a jukebox staple in plenty of bars.  The remainder of Haywire is a pleasant mix of upbeat songs and ballads that utilize Turner’s wonderful voice to the fullest.

All of Haywire has a comfortable feel to it; throughout the record there are hints of 1970s country rock. There are echoes of Poco, the Eagles and Linda Ronstadt, giving the songs a familiar, feel even though most of them are new compositions. While these songs feel like something you may have heard before, they all benefit from Turner’s his distinct vocal talent. Standout tracks from the album include the Don Williams-penned ”I Wouldn’t be A Man,” the barnstorming title track and the smooth, ’80s light rock-flavored ”Lovin’ You On My Mind,” my favorite song on the record.

”All Over Me” has a funky, Little Feat vibe that kept my head nodding and ”Friday Paycheck” fills the obligatory blue-collar date night song. While Turner’s singing and musicality is nice enough, the album begins to drag by the time it reaches its climax, the gospel number, ”The Answer.” Maybe it’s me, but I found this very religious song a little out of place with the rest of the record, which covers most of country music’s territory of working, drinking and bein’ with a good woman.  Still, as any of you familiar with the song ”Long Black Train” know, Turner is obviously a religious man, so perhaps I’m just being picky.

By the time I got to the bonus tracks on this deluxe edition, I was ready to move on to another record. However, when I returned to listen to the songs, which include a live version of ”Long Black Train,” I came away impressed that Turner’s voice sounds just as god live as it does on record.

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An album I found much more consistent and enjoyable was the debut CD by Easton Corbin, a young Floridian who moved to Nashville less than a month after getting married in 2006. He worked at Ace Hardware while trying to break into the country music scene and it took a distant cousin’s liking of his music to get it into the right hands. Corbin co-wrote three of the songs on his debut, while industry vets chipped in for the rest.

The rousing ”Roll With It” kicks things off, leading into Corbin’s first single, the hit ”A Little More Country,” which the artist identifies with because of the song exemplifies the values he was raised with.  There are songs about broken hearts (”This Far From Memphis”), true love (”The Way Love Looks”) and one that is a joyous reflection on getting older (”Someday When I’m Old”).

Elsewhere, I can hear ”I Can’t Love You Back,” a bittersweet power ballad, becoming a huge hit, and the Jimmy Buffett-like ”A Lot To Learn About Livin” turning into a concert favorite.

Of course, it seems it wouldn’t be a country album without at least one drinking song, in this case ”That’ll Make You Wanna Drink,” which will probably join Turner’s ”Friday Paycheck” as a weekend favorite in country bars.

The production of the album brings the acoustic guitar to the foreground in most of the tracks. This gives the CD a warm, down home feel. While there are plenty of steel guitars and fiddles throughout, the mood Easton Corbin evokes is the one caught on the album cover: Porch music. Listening to the album I can imagine this album being played on a summer night while sitting on the porch (or patio) enjoying my favorite beverage. When all is said and done, I may not be listening to Josh Turner’s Haywire so much, but I know I’ll be returning to Easton Corbin’s CD for the rest of the year.

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About the Author

Scott Malchus

Scott Malchus is a writer, filmmaker and die hard Cleveland Indians fan. His memoir, “Basement Songs,” is available in paperback and Kindle. He wrote and directed the film “King's Highway." His family is heavily involved in fund raising to find a cure for cystic fibrosis. Scott Malchus is an employee of Cartoon Network and Turner Broadcasting. The opinions expressed on Popdose are his own and do not reflect those of his employer. Email: Malchus@popdose.com. Follow him @MrMalchus

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