Release Date: November 20th 2020
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
Track Listing [Original Artist]:
- The World We Knew (Over and Over) [Frank Sinatra]
- Angels [Robbie Williams]
- Celebrate Me Home [Kenny Loggins]
- Shape of My Heart (feat. Leslie Odom Jr) [Sting]
- Your Face
- Both Sides Now (feat. Sara Bareilles) [Joni Mitchell]
- She [Elvis Costello]
- The Impossible Dream [from the 1965 Broadway Musical Man of La Mancha]
- The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face [Roberta Flack]
- It’s Now Or Never [Elvis Presley]
- I Can’t Make You Love Me [Bonnie Raitt]
- The Fullest (feat. Kirk Franklin)
‘…as a whole, Josh’s music has touched millions of people around the world, and over the course of this last week or so, mine as well. This is an artist truly blessed with something meaningful to say, and is impacting culture and people around the world with his own music, cover songs, and songs not in English, all in the time of breaking down stereotypes about what they believe to be operatic pop and what they reckon Josh’s music sounds like, I’m sure only based upon hearing his one famous song ‘You Raise Me Up’. Regardless of rash opinions and quick-to-judge listeners, prior to me actively picking Josh Groban as an artist to explore this week, I was also one of these people that assumed Josh was this, when in fact, he was so much more. Listening to operatic pop and music from stage productions has broadened my own horizons on music and made me appreciate the world of classical music, opera, anthemic pop and stage productions much more than initially thought. Sure I was impacted and inspired by artists previously in these Momentous Mondays blogs (artists like Avril Lavigne and Lifehouse have given me a reignited love for hard hitting pop-punk and rock, respectively), but to delve into a relatively unknown genre of music and come out the other side as someone that can appreciate a softer style of music, through musicals, is a powerful feat. God has certainly worked through Josh’s music, reminding me that He can, and He will, speak through anyone He chooses, and Josh’s music, with all the multi-faceted layers, is evidence of this!…’ This above quote was written by myself as a summing-up statement to my blog about Josh Groban way back in March 2019, as part of my series on 100 influential artists of the modern music era (of which I wrote about Josh early on in my musical blogging journey…#6 I think). Since then it has been an enjoyable ride listening to Josh’s music and being impacted by a musical style and genre that I may not have ever even decided to listen to, had it not been for this blog series. Yes, maybe that’s how redisened and apprehensive I was in terms of the genre of operatic pop, but nevertheless, I have to call it for what it is. I was pigeonholing Josh, right before I got a chance to know his music. And now in 2020, I’ve come to a place where I’d have to say that Josh’s music by far has been one of the most unique and out-of-the-box aritsts I’ve come across within the last year or so. To sing music in an operatic way is a gift in and of itself, and his music has blessed and impacted millions of people around the world, myself included, throughout the 2019/20 period. Now here I am in November 2020, and 8 albums into his career thus far, Josh’s new album Harmony unveiled to us this past Friday (November 20th 2020), and is perhaps one of the most familiar, but equally exciting, different and new, as we see Josh present to us a set of 12 songs, most of them covers (but a couple of very good originally-written songs), and remind us that songs of yesteryear can be birthed in a new and exciting way, to remind us of the timelessness of these melodies and how in such a turmoil time of 2020 as it is, we need familiar songs more than ever before!
I’m not really that good on ‘reviewing’ albums where most of the songs on it are covers. Because in all honesty and frankness, people know these songs. So I guess I won’t ‘review’ this album in a traditional sense. Because when it all comes down to it, there’s tons of reviews out there for an album, most of them primarily positive, and rarely ‘reviews’ out there speaking about themes and messages, what the artist has been aspiring to impart to us through the whole album vibe, or even what the artist wants to accomplish throughout their career thus far. I’ve read tons and tons of reviews out there, of albums I enjoy, and of albums I was curious with. But what I’ve come to realise is this- reviews are good to read, but sometimes you just have to listen to the music yourself if you want to experience the artist firsthand. Thankfully with Josh Groban’s music, there’s basically a cover of a song on every album, so I guess that is his starting point for anyone who hasn’t heard his music before- they can start listening to said cover, and then work their way forward from there. But in all seriousness though, Josh’s music is something to be marvelled at. And this new album Harmony is no different. Standing at 12 tracks, we are given 10 covers and 2 originals, and in the covers department, most if not all these songs have been impactful and famous in one decade or another.
‘The Impossible Dream’ was the first song to be released from Harmony and…well, you know there’s this song that you think you may have heard when you were younger, maybe only once or twice, not knowing where you heard it from, and then you hear the same song years upon years later? Yeah, that’s ‘The Impossible Dream’. A song from the 1965 Broadway musical Man of La Mancha, ‘The Impossible Dream’ is a song about dreaming big, to reach for something that may or may not come to pass, to dream about things that people can often consider outlandish or even foolish, as we know that to dream and to plan, to press on and accomplish things that make a difference in this world, is what we make the character of today’s innovators and tomorrows leaders. For to dream an impossible dream is where it has started for many inventors, activists, entrepreneurs, social workers, people who tell stories and make art, people who use their ideas to make this world a better place, basically anyone one dreams something that someone else will tell you that it’s too lofty to even be considered reality. ‘The Impossible Dream’ is a song for the ages, a timeless classic that hit all the right emotional notes as we’re reminded of how dreaming in a sense of looking to the future and hoping for things and outcomes, is what is needed, especially in this difficult and uncertain 2020. A song that has become an anthem for many people, me included, for this year of 2020 (at least until the end of it, and maybe into 2021!), we are encouraged that ‘…this is my quest to follow that star, no matter how hopeless, no matter how far, to fight for the right without question or pause, to be willing to march, march into hell for that heavenly cause…’
Throughout the rest of the album, we see songs of familiarity and songs that are brand-new, each striking a chord with many-a-listener, myself included. ‘The World We Knew (Over and Over)’, a song originally by 1950s legend Frank Sinatra, is given the Josh Groban treatment with horns and a general 50s vibe as this track begins Harmony in joyous and enthusiastic fashion, the song reminding us all of the changing of seasons and how the time of our lives keeps clocking on, that nostalgia and fondness of the past needs to be cultivated and not mistaken for regret and lament, whereas a song like ‘Celebrate Me Home’ (by Kenny Loggins, writer of the powerful standout 1980s song ‘Footloose’), is perfect for the Christmas holiday season, where we find ourselves longing and wanting to spend time with family and in community with people each reminding ourselves of the gift of friendship, camaraderie, and the birth of our Saviour Christ Jesus. ‘Shape of Your Heart’, a duet with Smash alum Leslie Odom Jr (and a singer-songwriter himself), is also present here on Harmony, and is the duo’s take on a Sting classic song- a song about the troubled human soul and how people often connect in ways that seem uncanny and unfathomable to us, as if the shape of our hearts are incongruent to how they live their lives, but nevertheless, is something we want to aspire towards, living life like a dance and exploring the avenues, crevaces, valleys and heights all along the way. ‘Both Sides Now’, a song by the masterful Joni Mitchell, is given the Josh Groban treatment, along with a duet vocal by Sara Bareilles. This reflective and emotionally charged melody is a reminder to each of us, that we don’t necessarily know much about life in general, even if we as someone can be so knowledgeable about life and all its intricacies, fails to ponder the deep and meaningful as we so often do; while Josh’s rendition of an already-popular and emotional ‘Angel’ (originally by Robbie Williams) is as good as it gets- if you haven’t listened to the original song from Robbie, then do so now quick, because I’d say ‘Angels’ is one of Robbie’s most poignant ballads he’s created in his career, period! Elvis Costello’s ‘She’ is also present on Josh’s Harmony, as this reflective melody is an ode and a homage to women, as Josh powerfully declares everything that is right with a lover (or a spouse) as we’re reminded to respect and honour the women in our own lives, mothers and immediate female family members included; while the songs ‘The First Time I Saw Your Face’, ‘It’s Now Or Never’, and ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me’ are all here and present on Josh’s cover rendition album Harmony, original artists by Roberta Flack, Elvis Presley and Bonnie Riatt respectively. For me it was the song ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me’ out of the three, that really speaks volumes, to the heart of love and a love lost- as the persona declares that ‘…I can’t make you love me if you don’t, you can’t make your heart feel something it won’t, here in the dark in these final hours, I will lay down my heart and I’ll feel the power, but you won’t, no, you won’t ‘cause I can’t make you love me if you don’t…’
There are two new songs present here on Harmony– ‘Your Face’ and ‘The Fullest (feat. Kirk Franklin)’. Both are equally powerful and both are equally important for this fabric of today which is 2020. Inspired by COVID-19 and the worldwide lockdowns that have ensued from this tremendous tragedy and loss of life unprecedented throughout the world; we see a song that has become the mantle of hope in recent months for anyone who has been a fan of Josh’s work these last few years (like myself), as we see this 2020-inspired track, reminding us all of the hope we all should have in a better tomorrow, because of the testimonies of people around the world- how they’ve lived through the last year, and how people have lived through crises before this one, and that this hope we have in the fact that these people all triumphed through adversity, gives us resolve, perseverance, gumption and a get-go to strive to live another day, with zeal, purpose, passion, intentionality and a sense of gratitude. ‘Your Face’ is a way for Josh himself to deal with the nonsensical nature of this year thus far, and while Josh himself doesn’t ascribe to being a religious ‘type’ of person, we are indeed reminded that the way we live, and love as Jesus did, people can see God through how we live our own lives, abandoning of the self and to live for the betterment of the other, something that isn’t necessarily wired into our fabric in the first place. ‘The Fullest’ rounds out the album as track #12, and features gospel legend Kirk Franklin adding his own trademark vocal flair with his carry-on gospel choir, as we’re reminded to always live life to the fullest, even if it can seem scary, worrisome, overwhelming, and just plain odd to live a life full of uncertainty in a way that following along a thin branch can cause people to feel (as it depicts in the song itself!). A song that has been given a life of its own and reminds me of a gospel-esque track can easily minister to people on a Sunday morning, at a church service around the world; Josh’s powerful track is a reminder to each of us living in this difficult time of 2020, to still live without regrets, live as if what we’re doing in this world, is making an impact, even if we believe in that particular moment, that it isn’t. Filling our cup to the fullest doesn’t have to equate to financial and monetary success (as people often think it is), but rather, a cup can be full of life experience, of maturity, of being refined by difficult times so that we can be more empathetic to other people in situations and circumstances like our own, of skills of communicating with people who have a different world-point than yourself, of exercising the qualities of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control…you know, those intangible things that are so often overlooked by society, but are indeed much more valuable to us than anything else that money can’t buy. This is the essence of ‘The Fullest’, a song that has fast become one of my favourite songs on Harmony, alongside ‘Your Face’ and the first single ‘The Impossible Dream’.
I can see fire burning way out there, I can feel the cold wind across the bitter air
And it makes me wonder how we’ll return, where will we go, what will we do with all we’ve learned?
Well, I believe in all of us, I won’t let this go to waste
I want someone I can touch, I want something I can taste
Holding on to what we must, the light ahead so hard to chase
But there is hope in all of us and I can see it on your face
Exerpted lyrics of ‘Your Face’
Lately, underneath this darkened sky
A spark has finally come to life and washed over me
Steer me from out of this delusive night
I got so much time for wild surprises, I can’t hold them anymore
But how much this could mean to me, I can only imagine
Just how deeply we perceive all the colors that we found
Would you follow me out on the thin branches?
Going blind, trying to soak up the sun
I believe, I believe, that the space in between is what we become
Pedal back through the fog through to second chances
Gotta fly at the end of the fall, and when my hour’s up
I wanna say I’ve filled my cup to the fullest
Exerpted lyrics of ‘The Fullest’
Josh’s music has been a healing moment for people around the world when they experience the soothing nature of operatic pop, as such a genre is one that is difficult to initially get into, but once you appreciate the delicate, exquisite and poignant genre of music, you understand that sometimes a genre that Josh himself is eloquent and well-rounded in, is often overlooked for something like pop. And that’s still ok. People can connect with Josh Groban or they can connect with Avril Lavigne. They that resonate with Lecrae, or even enjoy another artist, and that’s ok. Josh’s Harmony nevertheless will strike a chord with many, considering the amount of timeless classic songs presented in this 12 track album, one that has been borne out of quarantine, and the view of the world that is gripped with COVID-19, and how such an album with beauty, joy, hopefulness and a sense of intentionality about it, can come from something tragic and heartbreaking. It’s a mystery, but nevertheless, Josh’s new album is one to savour and enjoy for the remainder of 2020, and into 2021 we go. This is definitely an album worthy of a spin on a streaming platfrom service, at least once- but I will recommend this. Buy this album. Yes, buy it. It’s that good. Well done Josh for such a powerful album, one that has continued to assert my own appreciate for the classic songs of yesteryear, and that familiarity in a song isn’t as outdated as we all think!
‘…it’s definitely an adjustment to get used to not having an in-person experience with fans and feeling the back and forth about what you’re doing in the room,” Groban said. “It feels so good to sing and knowing that more people than ever are listening from wherever their space is in the world, it’s beautiful. I think for all of us to all of a sudden deal with the idea that we’re going to go it alone for a minute and we’re going to have to figure out what our lives mean in the face of this insanity that’s happening around us and uncertainty. Those of us that really rely on the next thing on the treadmill, that uncertainty can sometimes be very hard. As somebody who has deep personal experience with things like depression and anxiety…it’s the perfect storm for that kind of mentality. There’s no shame in just doing the small things every day to just get you through those moments- you don’t have to feel like you’re setting yourself up to knock down the biggest thing you could possibly imagine. For me it’s been little things. Instead of trying to write a whole song, just try and think about one line. I haven’t done a lot of cooking, maybe I can learn to make pasta today and see if I can look up how to boil water and do that. And all those little baby steps lead to realizing that you’re accomplishing quite a bit…’
3 songs to listen to: The Fullest, Your Face, The Impossible Dream
RIYL: Sara Bareilles, Kelly Clarkson, Robbie Williams, Ronan Keating, Sarah McLachlan