Release Date: September 21st 2018
Reviewed by Joshua Andre
- Musica del Corazon (feat. Vicente Amingo)
- Bridge Over Troubled Water
- Run (feat. Sarah McLachlan)
- S’il suffisait d’aimer
- Won’t Look Back
- We Will Meet Once Again (feat. Andrea Bocelli)
- More Of You
- 99 Years (feat. Jennifer Nettles)
- Bigger Than Us
- You Have No Idea
- She’s Always A Woman
“…When you’re recording music at the same time that a lot of divisiveness, fear and anger are going on in the world, you feel this sense that as an artist you’ve got an opportunity to hopefully bring people together and be a light when it feels like there’s a lot of darkness. So I wanted to make an album that reflected that optimism…there are plenty of incredible songwriters out there. You could just find songs and sing the hell out of them. So whenever you have an idea that’s yours and the courage to go ahead and take it to fruition and see the response from fans who say ‘That meant so much to me,’ ‘This is my wedding song,’ ‘This got me through my depression,’ that’s the connectivity that makes this just as scary, just as fun, just as invigorating at 37 as it was when I was 17. And that’s the thing that keeps me going…I’ll do another album – probably next or the one after that – that is ‘Josh sings dot dot dot’ because I love interpreting music vocally. But if I don’t keep writing, if I don’t keep trying to move myself and move the genre forward with personal experiences and experimentation, then I feel I would have failed…” Prior to me reading my brother Jon’s new blog post about Josh Groban, and hearing some of his most inspiring hit songs for the first time and being amazed by his exceptional prowess as a singer and a song-writer; to tell you the truth I had never really heard of Josh in the sense that I actively sought him and his music out. I knew he made “You Raise Me Up” famous, and I knew he starred in the TV show The Good Cop last year on Netflix. I also knew that he sang a version of “The Prayer” with Celine Dion quite a number of years back- but that was the extent that I knew about him. It was because I has initially assumed that Josh was singing Broadway/opera/anthemic stuff all the time (and that wasn’t really the genre I was ‘into’), that I didn’t really explore Josh’s music further. But as Jon firmly reiterated in his Momentous Mondays blog this past week, and what I have come to know through Josh’s music (especially hit singles such as “You Are Loved”, “Feels Like Home”, “Brave”, “To Where You Are”, “February Song”, and the Stevie Wonder cover of “I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)” to name a few; not to mention the original Christmas hit “Believe”); is that artists don’t have to fit the mould of our boxes that we’ve made for ourselves, in order to impact and inspire us.
As a Christian, early on in my life I had been totally immersed in Christian music. And that’s fine- it means that I’ve made a thought out and active decision not to be surrounded by music that doesn’t lift me up, that speaks about meaningless things such as sex, drugs, money and fame. But listening to only Christian music means that I’m not allowing God to speak through everything else- the mainstream music that is positive and hopeful and does build us up. Only recently I’ve started to realise that the world of mainstream music isn’t that scary, nor is it evil- and we as a site within the past couple of years have taken the plunge and reviewed albums from Avril Lavigne, Carrie Underwood, Tori Kelly, Dami Im, Cimorelli, Peter Hollens, Rachel Platten, and Stan Walker (which were all thoroughly enjoyable, meaningful, inspiring, and worth repeat listens!); not to mention that we still have upcoming album reviews from Alessia Cara and Daughtry to post. And the conclusion that I’ve come to is a reaffirmation of something I asserted a couple of years ago– that God can use anything to draw us to Himself- yes even a song that doesn’t explicitly glorify Him. This sentiment is echoed and evident in Josh Groban’s latest album Bridges, which delves into issues that probably most Christians wouldn’t dare touch upon- and issues that need to be spoken about.
With a background in Christianity (as his parents are believers, with his dad converting from Judaism to Christianity upon marrying his mother), it’s no wonder that Josh’s songs in Bridges have a strong undercurrent of spirituality to them. We may not know his faith- as Josh hasn’t explicitly said anything on the matter- but what matters most I reckon is that God is using Bridges to further His kingdom, and to provide healing for those in similar situations to what these songs outline. Letting us know that our struggles aren’t unique, that someone else is going through them as well- is very therapeutic. Bridges is that album- that therapeutic album- and one that would have been near the top of my ‘best of 2018’ list has we listened to the project last year instead of this year! So if you want to know more about Josh Groban and read about his mission, vision and legacy before diving deep into this review- than I suggest that you do. Check him out on Wikipedia (where I’m sure everyone goes when they need info on any topic!), and also on Jon’s blog, where he details a few of his hit songs. And now that you have, can I begin? Yep, ok, here goes!
With the whole album produced by Bernie Herms, husband of CCM extraordinaire Natalie Grant; Bridges opens with the guitar led mid-tempo ballad and lead single “Granted”, an introspective analysis of one’s life and the realisation of the fact that ‘…the story’s yours, go write it, tomorrow’s undecided, our days are counted on this planet, never take a single breath, take a single breath for granted…’. With an eerily uncanny vocal similarity to CCM singer/songwriter Jason Gray, Josh excels greatly here in the album opener with raw emotion, passion and brutal honesty, in one of the most impacting openers I’ve heard in a long time. I didn’t know that Josh could get so deep so quickly (and has me asserting that “Granted” is just as relevant as “You Raise Me Up”!); and the hits keep on coming.
“Symphony” on the surface seems like a sad song, as this acoustic guitar led slow paced track delves into a potentially failed relationship due to a long distance aspects, however a deeper listen reveals that the persona wants his loved one to know that he/she still loves them despite the distance between them, which makes me believe in the power of love and hope. While we may not fully know the ending and whether it’s happy or not, Josh’s ambiguity here gives us food for thought for our imagination. “River”, the most gospel/CCM song that Josh has recorded- aside from “You Raise Me Up”- is a personal highlight, as Josh sings across brass instruments and a jazz atmosphere, about a ‘river’ (metaphorical or literal) that has the power to wash away our worries and fears. Definitely I can see that Josh could be unintentionally singing about Jesus- the bridge is a big clue, as Josh declares ‘…let the calm pull me under far beyond the thunder, tell me it will all be ok, let the waves take all my worries, conquer them with fury, give me shelter, be my escape…’; yet even if you aren’t religious and see the song some other way, that’s ok too. Because I reckon everyone from all faiths can be blessed by this song- and that’s the beauty of the power of music.
As with all of his previous albums, Josh also has recorded a few non-English speaking songs on Bridges, and even though I don’t understand any of these lyrics (and google translate isn’t that much help in me understanding the meaning behind these songs…), they’re nonetheless powerful and impacting, as I realise that songs don’t have to have words, or in this case words I can understand, to mean something spiritual or otherworldly to any listener. “Musica del Corazon”, featuring the exquisite guitar playing of Vicente Amingo, is proclaimed in Spanish, and speaks about the music of the heart and how the persona believes that he/she and their loved one belong together like music in the same song (according to google translate!), while the sombre “S’il suffisait d’aimer”, originally recorded by Celine Dion, is a French ballad that literally bemoans about the fact that there are happy couples in love, whereas the persona loves someone but it isn’t enough, as they can also point out the other person’s faults. It’s a sad track (probably one of the only sad songs on Bridges!), but necessary as we remember that we need to choose to stay in our relationships with our significant others- if we don’t want a situation like in the song to occur. The final non-English speaking song “We Will Meet Once Again”, is a duet with Andrea Bocelli (whom Josh does have a long history with- Josh received his first big break in the late 90’s after subbing in for Andrea at the Grammys singing “The Prayer” with Celine Dion…and the rest is history!), as both vocalists trade bars in Italian effortlessly, reiterating that even though we may find ourselves in a situation where our loved ones are far away, we will meet them again in the future- either in this life or the next.
As Bernie Herms has over the years produced albums for numerous pop artists; it’s evident that Bridges has the pop imprint all over it, as opposed to the big booming anthemic opera-style sounds of Josh in his early career…and that’s ok that Josh is dipping his toe into a new untapped genre. “Won’t Look Back” is a ode to Josh’s muse, his inspiration, his significant other (or it could be about a hypothetical situation)- and the song is essentially a vow to his loved one that he won’t ever abandon them; while the song could also be read as a prayer to God also, which is pretty cool as well. “More Of You” is another out-and-out relationship style pop song that describes our need for our significant other to survive (that can also be doubled up as a prayer to God that we need more of Him to live and thrive!); and the country themed “99 Years” features Jennifer Nettles on guest vocals- and delves into the everlasting love of an elderly couple celebrating a farfetched number of 99 years together- bringing us to the realisation that a long life with the same person by our side forever and ever is something we all should long to strive for. A life of faithfulness over deceit and secrets; and it’s welcome that Josh is able to bring this concept back to the fore in a time where couples, especially prominent Hollywood figures, break up all the time.
Covers are nothing new when it comes to Josh Groban albums- and he has recorded a cracker of a cover here in “Bridge Over Troubled Water” originally by Simon and Garfunkel. Updating this iconic fan favourite and classic into a modern gospel take that feels fresh and reinvigorating; I am tempted to say that this version is probably my favourite version of all time (yep, better than the original, and slightly better than Michael W. Smith’s!); while another cover present on Bridges is the Josh’s stirring rendition of Snow Patrol’s “Run”, also featuring Sarah McLachlan on guest vocals. I’m not that familiar with the original recording- I don’t think Snow Patrol were popular on the radio station Hope 103.2 where I listened to most mainstream music in the 2000’s (and it’s only the chorus that sounds vaguely familiar!), but from what I gather, Josh sings this track perfectly, and Sarah’s vocals are sublime also. The standard version of the album ends with the anthemic 3 minute pop sound “Bigger Than Us”, a semi-political song as Josh encourages us all to band together and stand up and stand alongside each other, because what is happening to the world right now, economically, politically and in other ways, is so much bigger than us. If we as believers want to take this song further, I’d say that Josh could be subtly alluding to the end times and how we as Christians need to be secure in our faith before Jesus comes back- but that’s just me projecting my own beliefs onto what is already a confronting yet also comforting album ender.
“…Every time I’ve been able to work with an artist that has achieved legend status, the common denominator is that they never stopped striving to learn more and get better. You see a lot of people who go from being nobody to being a global star in five minutes. It’s really hard to know how to deal with it. I think that one of the things that kept me on the straight and narrow was that the people that I really looked up to growing up – the people who had been doing this for 40 or 50 years like Paul Simon, Neil Young, Tony Bennett – are people who just never stop trying to get better. They always find ways to scare themselves…” With the deluxe edition of the album containing vibrant and emotional covers from Harry Connick Jr (“You Have No Idea”) and Billy Joel (“She’s Always A Woman”); Bridges from Josh Groban stands tall amongst many of the pop albums of today- in fact many of the albums of today period. Operatic pop isn’t really my thing, and still isn’t, yet there’s something about Josh’s new album that makes me smile. With not really any song (except for maybe “River”) speaking about Jesus, this is an album that I shouldn’t like. But I do, and it’s crazy and it doesn’t make sense. But I’m glad that God is working through this, because the world needs to hear about this amazing album right now and be inspired just like me! so what are you waiting for everyone! At least give Bridges a spin before Bridges Live drops in a month (as a CD/DVD)! Well done Josh, you have literally surprised me in a good way; can’t wait to hear and see what you have next up your sleeve in the future!
4 songs to listen to: Granted, River, More Of You, 99 Years
RIYL: Veritas, Jason Crabb, Jason Gray, Coldplay, Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson, Dami Im