The art of the country power ballad was not lost on Josh Gracin. On his first album in roughly three and a half years, and his third overall, the 31-year-old Michigan native sings of burning love over dramatic arrangements full of acoustic/electric interplay, big synthesizers and a soaring voice.
A lot has changed since Josh’s most recent album, We Weren’t Crazy, was released in 2008. For starters, Josh found a new label home with up and coming Average Joe’s Entertainment after parting ways with now-defunct Lyric Street Records. His first project with Average Joe’s Entertainment, the 16-song collection Redemption, hits stores next week with a polished sound similar to the pop leaning epics of groups like Rascal Flatts.
Josh handles most of the songwriting himself on Redemption, which is also a shift from his first two records. After writing or co-writing only three songs total on those albums, Josh writes/co-writes 15 out of the 16 songs here. A Top 5-finishing contestant on the second season of FOX’s American Idol (2003) singing competition, Josh’s talent for performance is evident early and often throughout the record as his songwriting displays a knack for building dramatic love songs.
“Over Me,” a rising power ballad realizing that a lover has moved on, features vocal runs reminiscent of Rascal Flatts frontman Gary LeVox as Josh sings, What I didn’t know, that it still hurts this bad since I let you go, over piano, strings and soft acoustic picking. Strong piano tones hold many songs on the album together. “Enough” and “Lie To Me” both feature piano-based foundations before erupting in the chorus. On the latter, Josh shows off the ability to maneuver complicated production elements through a sea of electric guitars, drums, piano and synthesizer, remaining steady and passionate with lines, Baby, just lie to me/ let’s make this easy. On the standout and creatively produced track, “Let You Go,” soft echoes and effected vocals support Josh’s bittersweet message as he admits, I had to ask myself the hardest question/ Am I the best she’s ever gonna know?/ The answer’s the reason I’ve got to let her go.
Josh’s willingness to bring a fresh approach to Redemption even extends to his methods finding duet partners. For the rolling and emotional “Only When It Rains,” he engineered a video submission contest to find his partner. Winner Shelagh Brown joins Josh on the song to share strong leads and provide tight harmonies. Josh also reaches out of the country comfort zone with a cover of the floating “Edge of Desire,” penned by pop star John Mayer. The slow, atmospheric ¾-time waltz features ringing guitars and cello weaving in between lines like, Maybe this mattress will spin on its axis and find me on yours.
“Can’t Say Goodbye,” a somber song Josh co-wrote with Seana Arrechaga, the widower of Army SFC Ofren Arrechaga, serves to honor her fallen husband’s life and those of other US soldiers killed in battle. Josh, an ex-Marine himself, includes the track as part of Sears’ Heroes at Home.
The title Redemption has obvious connotations, especially when there isn’t a song on the project by the same name. But what’s also obvious is that Josh dedicated himself to developing his songwriting for the project. This devotion comes through on the complex ballads as well as on turns in the road like the bluesy “Catastrophe” or amped up album-opener “Different Kind of Crazy.” Josh elevates his craft on Redemption, a result of the freedom he’s acquired through the support of his new label and a fresh approach.