Josh Groban Bridges The Creative Divide

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Josh Groban juggles stage, screen and concert touring (Photo by Brian Bowen Smith)

Albert Einstein once likened life to riding a bicycle in that you had to keep moving in order to maintain your balance. Apparently, this is a credo that Josh Groban has wholeheartedly embraced. In the past year and a half, he’s nabbed a 2017 Best Actor in a Musical Tony nomination for his performance as Pierre Bezukhov in Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 and this past September saw the premiere of the Netflix murder-mystery series The Good Cop, which was developed by Monk creator-writer Andy Breckman and finds Groban sharing co-billing with Tony Danza.

If that’s not enough, that same day saw the release of Bridges, the California native’s eighth studio album, which is also being followed up by Josh Groban: Bridges Tour, a string of arena dates he’s been playing with fellow musical theater phenom and friend Idina Menzel. While it seems to be a pretty overwhelming slate of activity, Groban doesn’t quite see it that way.

“Time does slow down in my head, even if it’s not slowing down in front of me. I’m able to kind of zone in on things and focus on them and I think being able to take a time out and go make The Good Cop was really serendipitous and helpful, because I was starting to feel a little burnt out having finished about half the record,” he explained. “Then I got that [role] out of nowhere. It gave me a chance to change gears and sides of my brain. Then when I had so much fun taping that and was done with it, I couldn’t wait to get to my day job. I was there guns blazing, ready to get back in again. Everything happens for a reason and I feel like even though it’s been a lot on my plate, those things have inspired me to do other things. So, it’s been helpful.”

Groban’s newest musical outing is his first album of mostly original music since 2013’s All That Echoes. Balance is a key element at the center of these dozen songs, as life lessons about receiving and losing love and maintaining positivity through times good and bad resonate solidly, whether it’s throughout the stirring “River” and its inspirational gospel accompaniment, the ethereal opener “Granted” or the closing number “Bigger Than Us,” a message of unity wrapped in a delicate swath of string arrangements and sparse piano runs that wouldn’t sound out of place on a latter-day U2 album. Guest appearances by Sarah McLachlan and Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles further sweeten the listening experience. As someone who cut his teeth on musical theater, Groban shows his range and adeptness of singing in a foreign tongue, be it in Spanish for his duet with classical guitar virtuoso Vicente Amigo in “Musica Del Corazon,” tackling Celine Dion’s “S’il Suffisait D’Aimer” in the original French or trading lines in Italian with Andrea Bocelli on “We Will Meet Once Again.”

For Groban, going the extra mile to learn how to sing a song in the original language that it was penned makes for a more rewarding experience for all involved.

“It takes the difficulty level of recording up considerably. I didn’t grow up with these languages. As a vocal student, I studied many of them, which is how they started to find themselves on my first album. Just singing in those languages was always a huge part of why I loved singing. But the process that goes into it is pretty in-depth. If I’m going to tackle a song in another language, even if I’m very confident, I always work with a coach to make sure that I’m getting the right dialect and the right pronunciation. And of course, learning the song, even if I don’t know the language conversationally,” he said. “I have to learn the song fluently and really learning it as if I were singing it in English. As far as the why—I’ve always felt there’s a musicality and a poetry to these songs when they are in those languages, especially if they were written in those languages. They lose their music when you translate that into English. There’s something very special about choosing to sing in different languages as a vocalist because it really unlocks different levels of your voice that are both challenging and so rewarding for both me and my audience.”

As for his live shows, Groban is aware that for as many people that may be attending who are hardcore fans, there are just as many spouses and significant others who might just be along for the ride. Given that he looks at the live music experience as being as close to a kind of religion that he connects with, creative inclusivity remains a goal every time he hits the stage. It’s why he’s making sure to work with local string players and choirs at every stop of the tour.

“I always like to have the live show be the best representation of the spirit of any new music that I’m putting out. And also be a celebration of the songs that I’ve had throughout the course of my career. There are some songs we do that the fans have loved forever and we always like to throw in songs that are a surprise that fans may not have heard much of. And it gives us a chance to put a new energy on, even the newer songs,” he said. “At any given moment of the show, there’s going to be 40 musicians. When I do a live show in an arena, it’s really a chance to celebrate the connection that I have with my fans that’s different than holding or downloading an album. It’s something that becomes a once-in-a-lifetime experience for all of us that you can’t share. So my goal is to both give fans of mine a musical experience that is more heightened than any other way they can experience the music. But then it’s also my goal to win over the people that have been dragged there who aren’t as familiar, aren’t fans or really don’t want to be there. Whatever it is, I really want to put on an incredible show and leave them wanting more as well.”

Josh Groban will be appearing with Idina Menzel on Nov. 18 at Madison Square Garden, 4 Pennsylvania Plaza, NYC. For more information, visit www.thegarden.com or call 212-707-3131.

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In addition to being editor of Garden City Life and Syosset-Jericho Tribune, Dave Gil de Rubio is a regular contributor to Long Island Weekly, specializing in music and sports features. He has won several awards for writing from Press Club of Long Island (PCLI).

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