Prime Cuts: King Size Manger, Solder's Gift, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
Overall Grade: 4.5/5
Alan Jackson, Randy Travis, Alabama, Hillary Scott, Reba McEntire, and many others have taken the same detour before. They have each recorded their share of Christian albums amidst their highly successful country music careers. Turner has taken such a turn before when he released his Christian music debut I Serve a Saviour in 2018. The album was so warmly received that he decided to do a Christian-themed Christmas album. Though Turner made his first appearance on the charts in 2001, King Size Manger is his first dabble in seasonal music. Instead of taking a musical direction tangent to his own sound, Turner has decided to keep the album country, a genre that he truly shines in.
The album is a mixture of traditional carols and four original contributions. Easily the best among the originals is the title track "King Size Manger." Here Turner puts his velvety baritone to great effect as he re-tells the story of Christ birth over a gorgeous piano-driven melody. "Soldier's Gift," written by Tom Douglas and Travis Hill, is a strong narrative song about how a soldier who is far away from home celebrates Christmas. The best part of the song is that it grabs your attention from the get-go, and it never lets you go as story unfolds right through the song. Turner then teams with singer-songwriter Pat McLaughlin on the bluegrassy banjo-fronted "What He's Given Me."
It's easy to mistake Hawaiian-influenced "Mele Kalikimaka My 'Ohana" (featuring Jake Shimabukuro and Ho'okena) as a traditional folk song. But it was actually written by Turner himself when he and his wife went to Hawaii for an anniversary trip. With its unique ukulele strums, "Mele Kalikimaka My 'Ohana" is indeed a standout Christmas offering. Rhonda Vincent (who sounds like Patty Loveless) lends her vocals to the delightful bluegrass-tingled "Joy to the World." Turner brings back the 90s country sound with his rendition of "Angels We Have Heard on High."
When artists bring in their family to sing with them, it usually adds up being a cheese-fest. Not so when Turner brings in his wife and his four sons to sing on "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." In fact, when they all sing together in the chorus, they actually sound very good. Fans who love their Christmas music rustic will love the stripped-down country-to-bone rendition of "Go Tell It on the Mountain." Though the album has its predictable moments here and there, King Size Manger finds Turner relaxed and passionate about doing these Christmas songs his way. And thanks to producer Kenny Greenberg for helping Turner get to his goal.