James J. Turner’s latest album, “Spirit, Soul and Handful of Mud,” opens with the raucous title track, a song about mortality that manages to be joyous, somber, inspiring and sobering all at once, a profound disquisition on the meaning of life packed into less than four minutes and set to a rollicking Celtic-flavored tune.
On this, his third album, Turner is preoccupied with two major themes, separate but interrelated: nature and justice.
The title track sets a sobering tone on the nature side of the equation, celebrating rather than mourning the reality of mortality and the earthy nature of human existence. Turner is is confident and well-anchored in a nature-centered pagan spirituality that manifests in his lyrics in various ways. In “Come With Me,” he invites the listener to come with him on a journey, but only “If your heart is on the mountain and your soul is in the sea.” Meanwhile, in “Long Way Around,” he celebrates living a life engaged and aware.
As the rain flows to the stream and sea
Life flows on through you and me
In the sun and sky and the grass and the trees
The very fabric of nature is alive in me
Turning to justice, Turner contrasts the rich and poor in “Heart of Gold.” “Watching You” is about our surveillant society, while “Karma Will Track You Down” he delights in the richly deserved comeuppance of the hypocritical.
Related: Interview with James J. Turner
As with his previous outings, Turner’s performance is bold, forceful and certain. He shows no wavering of his convictions, presenting instead an uncompromising, consistent set of beliefs.
Musically, the album rocks despite the contemporary folk instrumentation and arrangements. Acoustic guitars, fiddles and whistles shape and flavor the tunes, but the compositions meld styles and influences into a seamless and unique mix.