Josh Turner’s ‘I Serve a Savior’ Is Built on Symbolism
There were times when Josh Turner didn't think his desire to craft a gospel album would be anything more than an idea. But the passion project finally came to fruition in 2018 with I Serve as Savior, out on Oct. 26, following a timeline of Turner's life and the moments that provided him with the building blocks to create it.
The title track is one of these building blocks. Turner was working on his Deep South album when the idea for "I Serve a Savior" came to him, unintentionally setting the stage for the future project. "I knew nothing of this gospel record," he says.
As someone who was drawn to hymns from a young age, Turner used I Serve a Savior as a way to add his own watermark to the genre, approaching the title track with a mindset of creating a modern-day version of a spiritual song.
"Hymns to me have always had lyrical depth and a lot of soul behind it and passion; it was inspired. But melodically, it's very simply, very straightforward and easy to sing along to," he describes.
The title encouraged him and co-writer Mark Narmore to pen a song deep-seated in servitude, reciting scripture in the lyrics as a way to remain authentic to the song's message. "It was kind of challenging because I had to put a lot of stuff into a small space with this song, " he explains. "I had four lines to establish who the Savior was and what He did for us, what He's offering,."
When the singer approached the album—one fans have consistently been asking for—he was faced with two paths: Record well-known hymns in a standard fashion, or write original songs that may be off-putting to traditionalists. "I think when it comes to a record like this, there has to be a certain level of familiarity for somebody to invest their time into listening to it," Turner shares.
Rather than setting down one path, he combined the two concepts and selected some of his favorite hymns while also incorporating his own story.
Though the title track was a premonition of sorts, another one of the album's defining songs also paved the way. "The River (Of Happiness)" is one of its purest moments, as Turner's wife Jennifer and three sons sing of being called to a peaceful river. It's the craftsmanship not of a veteran songwriter, but rather Turner's son Hampton, who was 8 when he was inspired by the idea.
The little boy was playing a melody he created on his mandolin, and his mother asked what he envisioned while he was playing. "He said 'I see a river. It's a happy river,'" Turner narrates.
Hampton and Jennifer transformed this vision into a piece of music, one that Turner was taken by the first time he heard it. "I felt like it added something to the record because subject matter-wise, it was saying something that no other song on the record was saying," he describes. "I felt like it was a good addition, it wasn't going to take away from the record."
Turner's connection to gospel music, and his future album, goes all the way back to his childhood. Turner was first acquainted with gospel music through the voice of Bobby Osborne while sifting through his grandmother's collection when he came across a Osborne Brothers record.
"'I Pray My Way Out of Trouble' is one of the first songs I ever remember hearing in my life," Turner reflects of the song, which is included on I Serve a Savior. Bobby sings background vocals on Turner's version of one of the most important hymns in his life, and is a "full-circle moment" for the country star.
Collectively, I Serve a Savior adds new meaning to the songs that have defined Turner's spirituality while allowing him to contribute his own voice. "I want to be thought-provoking," he says of his mission. "I want to uplift people and lift their spirits and inspire them and offer some hope and joy and peace. We live in a world now where there's not a lot of that to go around, so I hope that my efforts and my time on this record would uplift people instead of discourage them."
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