An Ode To… is a bi-monthly meme where I pick one of my favorite musicians / bands and share some of my favorite songs by them. Maybe you’ve heard of said musician / band before, or maybe you’re about to discover fantastic music to add to your library. So, sit back, listen, and relax – or, in some cases, headbang. *wink*
I’m off to see Josh Groban in concert again tonight! 😀 So I thought this would be a great time for a new Ode, and one with a different music style than the rock and metal I’ve showcased in the past. In other words, no headbanging and loud guitar riffs this time. Instead, here are some equally bombastic tunes of a more purely symphonic nature, with one of the most incredible voices on the popular music scene today.
Who Is Josh Groban?
Josh Groban is one of the world’s best-selling classical crossover artists over the past 15 years. And with a powerful, emotion-rich baritone voice even when he was 17 years young, it’s no surprise how he got his big break: Replacing Andrea Bocelli as Celine Dion’s duet partner for “The Prayer” at the 1999 Grammys. Which led to a performance on the Rosie O’Donnell Show, a brief acting stint on Ally McBeal, and (finally) a record deal.
Since then, Josh has sold over 25 millions records worldwide and captivated audience after audience with his voice, sweeping music, and engaging stage presence. His music has also evolved from straightforward classical-pop to an amalgam of orchestral, jazz, and world music, especially once Josh became more involved in songwriting. Even if classical crossover isn’t “your thing,” you might be surprised at how much Josh’s songs might appeal to you.
My Introduction to Josh Groban: “You Raise Me Up”
This might be the most common answer most fans would give to the question, “What was your first Josh Groban song?”. It’s still the biggest hit of Josh’s career in terms of chart placement and radio exposure. For me personally, I first heard it in February 2004, while watching pre-game coverage of that year’s Super Bowl. Josh performed the song with a choir as part of the one-year anniversary tribute to NASA and the Columbia shuttle explosion. (That was over 10 years ago? Wow…)
If you’ve never listened to “You Raise Me Up” before, it’s a simple song that thanks the people who inspire and encourage us to be the best we can be. So, it fit that part of the ceremony well. I didn’t catch the lyrics that first time – but THAT VOICE. A handsome balance of power, and emotion that soared with the music and gave it the right amount of feeling. By the time the song ended, I was smitten – and my mother told me, “See what you’ve been missing out on?”
Favorite Song from Josh Groban: “Canto Alla Vita”
My mother was a Grobanite (online slang for “Josh Groban fan”) before I was. So after Josh’s Super Bowl performance, she let me borrow her copies of his 2001 self-titled debut, and 2003’s Closer. For a while, I liked all of the songs on Josh Groban equally and couldn’t choose a favorite. Then I bought Josh’s Live at the Greek DVD for Mom as a gift – and “Canto Alla Vita” shot to the top of my list. Live renditions often have subtle nuances and unexpected changes that bring new life to a song. With “Canto Alla Vita,” Josh and his band stretch out the intro with cool synth improvisations – and then at the end, they kick up the tempo and Josh plays the drums! He’s pretty good, don’t you think? 😀
Also check out the original version of “Canto Alla Vita” from Josh Groban here, which features singer Andrea Corr of the Celtic rock band The Corrs.
Favorite Song from Closer: “Remember When It Rained”
Despite my reactions to “You Raised Me Up” and Josh Groban, they didn’t prepare me for this heartbreaking beauty from Closer. It’s a gorgeous example of the term “soundscape,” The slow tempo, somber piano, and ethereal orchestrations during the verses and first two choruses evoke images and feelings that reflects the nostalgia and bittersweetness of the lyrics so well – and then BOOM! It crescendoes like thunder and lightning in a rainstorm. (Like how I tied that metaphor in with the song title? *wink*) Closer was also Josh’s first foray into songwriting; so when the lyrics-fan in me noticed that “Remember When It Rained” was one of the three tracks he co-wrote, it made me love it even more.
Favorite Song from Awake & A Song with Special Meaning: “February Song”
Ohhhhhh Awake!! It’s my favorite Josh Groban album to date. Not only does it offer more musical variety than its predecessors, but this particular collection of Josh’s songs resonates with me most. And despite how much I enjoyed the other songs I’ve talked about so far, “February Song” was the first Josh Groban song to bring me to tears. The lyrics are the reason why: They mirror the sadness and loneliness I’ve felt at some of the lowest points in my life. (Interestingly enough, Josh has said he wrote “February Song” on a sleepless night during a particularly tough time for him.) The music’s slow build from a soft, contemplative opening to a rousing, brass-tinged crescendo strengthens the song’s tugs on the heartstrings, too.
Favorite Song from Noël: “O Come All Ye Faithful” (feat. the Mormon Tabernacle Choir)
Oh yes. Josh recorded a Christmas album. Awesomely brilliant decision, wouldn’t you agree? 😀 Noël is my go-to album when wrapping presents and decorating my tree every December. The blending of Josh’s classical crossover sound with traditional instruments and stellar guest vocalists like Brian McKnight and Faith Hill is nothing short of perfection. I sort of feel like I’m unveiling a “secret weapon” by picking “O Come All Ye Faithful,” which closes out Noël. But with church organs and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir joining him for this holiday hymn, it’s one of the grandest tracks in Josh’s repertoire.
Favorite Song from Illuminations: “Voce Existe Em Mim”
How about a happier song now? 🙂 Josh has performed in several languages over his career: French, Spanish, Italian, Latin – all languages you’d expect to hear a classically trained vocalist to sing, and that Josh has nailed in the past. So when I learned that Illuminations would feature a Portuguese song (“Voce Existe Em Mim” means “you exist in me” in English), I knew Josh would do an equally amazing job. And he does – but the music!! The percussion, the rhythmic string arrangements – this song has the buoyancy to lift your spirits heaven-high and make springtime bloom in your soul. Not to mention I want to dance whenever I listen to it. 😀
Make sure you check out the live version of “Voce Existe Em Mim,” too (click here). Because guess which singer who jumped on the drums for “Canto Alla Vita” makes another appearance behind the kit? 😉
Favorite Song from All That Echoes: “She Moved Through The Fair”
This traditional Irish folk song has been covered by countless artists, including Led Zeppelin, Sinead O’Connor, and Sarah Brightman (sometimes as “He Moved Through the Fair,” if sung by a female). I’d never heard of it, though, until Josh recorded his own version for 2013’s All That Echoes, and it didn’t take long for it to pull me under its enchantment. Slow in tempo, its acoustic arrangements match the song’s pastoral, romantic nature and are rich with its Irish-Celtic heritage. Whenever I listen to “She Moved Through the Fair,” I picture a nighttime festival in the countryside, alight with lanterns and the glitter of fireflies, and a young couple walking hand in hand. (*heart goes pitter-patter*) It also reminds me of a certain scene that’s currently in my WIP… But that’s all I can say for now. 😉
Favorite Song from Stages: “Bring Him Home” (from Les Miserables)
This was a really tough choice, because I enjoy a number of songs from Stages equally. This CD is a unique one on Josh’s repertoire; it’s a cover album featuring songs from some of Josh’s favorite musicals. So here, you’ll find classics like “Pure Imagination” (Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory), “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” (The Wizard of Oz), and “All I Ask of You” with Kelly Clarkson (The Phantom of the Opera). However, his rendition of “Bring Him Home” from Les Miserables is a stunning stand-out. It contrasts the bombast of more instrument-laden tracks with a simple piano arrangement that allows Josh’s voice to shine. Not to mention Josh captures the intensity of the lyrics’ prayer so well, it takes my breath away.
Um, so, when is Josh going to headline a show on Broadway? Because I’d pay lots of money to see that. 😉
Three Other Awesome Josh Groban Tracks:
“In Her Eyes” needs to be played at my wedding one day, along with “Ariel” by Anathema. It has to. The lyrics are just perfect for the occasion; they talk about regarding the one you love as someone extraordinary and special, and wanting to become a better person because of him/her. Hearing “In Her Eyes” also brings back memories of Josh performing this song during his Awake tour in 2007 (the first time I saw him in concert). It came after an instrumental by his band and the touring violinist Lucia Micarelli, but Josh wasn’t onstage when he started singing it. Instead, he was in the audience, and he spent most of the song walking the aisles, greeting fans as he passed by. I love it when music artists surprise concert-goers in that way. 🙂
I know I’m giving Awake a lot of love, but it’s such a gem, and “Weeping” is another reason why. This cover of Dan Heymann and Bright Blue’s anti-apartheid anthem features the South African vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo and a number of African instruments. It’s therefore a standout for its distinct world music flavor as well as its message of peace and non-violence – a message that, in many ways, is still relevant today.
A couple of Josh’s songs have paid tribute to the military. On “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” (Noël), Josh included recorded messages from U.S. soldiers overseas to their families. “War at Home,” however, addresses a very real struggle away from the frontlines: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Each verse illustrates the different ways the condition can affect its victims; and even though I don’t know anyone who’s served in the military or suffers from PTSD, the lyrics bring a lump to my throat. The brass section and “drum corps” percussion add patriotic touches to the music that fit the mood as well as the subject matter.
Are you a fan of Josh Groban’s music? If so, what are your favorite songs or albums by him? If you’re checking our his songs for the first time, what do you think?