Since his new album includes no song by that title, it seems relevant to ask Josh Gracin why he named it Redemption. Who or what is being redeemed?
“It was for many factors,” Gracin tells CMT.com. “One, coming off the show — American Idol [in 2003] — everybody in Nashville kind of saw me as this kid that could just sing other people’s music in a karaoke-kind of contest. They didn’t take me seriously, especially since I didn’t win. It was redemption from that.”
Gracin came in fourth on Idol, but his performances on the show were impressive enough to win him a contract with Lyric Street Records in 2004.
“There’s also redemption from mistakes I made in the [music] business,” he adds. “There are things I look back on now that I wouldn’t necessarily do different — because I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason — but I wanted a chance to redeem myself from those.”
He says a close friend suggested the title Redemption.
“I felt the only way that I could shed that [early] persona,” he continues, “was to write the entire album and co-produce it as well.”
Gracin wrote six songs for Redemption and co-wrote nine others, including the R&B-infused “Catastrophe” with Ruben Studdard, the singer who won Idol the same year Gracin competed.
The only outside song is a cover of John Mayer’s “Edge of Desire.”
Drummer Kevin Murphy served as Gracin’s co-producer.
Redemption reveals Gracin to be a talented — even inspired — songwriter whose lyrics are sufficiently dramatic and well-wrought to challenge his near-operatic voice.
Naturally, all the songs are about romance. But at 31, Gracin finds himself viewing love on a broad spectrum of intensity, one that stretches from delirious (“Different Kind of Crazy”) to dutiful (“Love You Right,” “My Life”) to tragic (“Can’t Say Goodbye” ).
With the debut of Josh Gracin in 2004, the singer scored big. The album yielded three Top 5 singles, including the No. 1 “Nothin’ to Lose” and went on to be certified gold (for the shipment of 500,000 copies to retail stores).
The follow-up album, 2008’s We Weren’t Crazy, was less successful, spinning off only one Top 10 single, the title cut.
Gracin exited Lyric Street in 2009, just about a year before the label closed its doors.
A former Marine, Gracin admits he suffered in the clash between military and music business cultures.
“When you’re in the Marine Corps and people don’t do their jobs the way you think they should, they have to answer for it. And it’s not a beat-around-the-bush, let’s-motivate-the-team [approach].
“It is, ‘This is what you need to do. You didn’t do it. So you’re answering for it.’ Out here in the real world, it’s more of a childish attitude toward [responsibilities]. It’s ‘I want the job. I want to make money. I want to be put in the position. But if I do something wrong, I don’t want to be told about it.’
“I handled it the military way. I called them out. I called people out in meetings [and in] phone calls and emails, and they didn’t respond to that very well. I’ve [since learned] I can still get things across the way I want to … but in a way that will be received a lot better.”
In his period between labels — he’s now on Average Joe Entertainment — Gracin posted demos on his website “so my fans could see what I was still making music.”
Two of those songs — “Enough” and “I Still Love You” — made it into Redemption.
A request from Sears for Gracin to participate in the retail chain’s Heroes at Home campaign, aimed at military families, prompted him to write “Can’t Say Goodbye.”
“They had an essay contest where people around the country got to write about their military hero,” he explains. “They chose that winning essay, and it was my job to write a song from their story.
“Out of all the songs I’ve written, it’s given me the most honor. It’s very humbling to be part of the process. I had many conversations with the woman the song’s about.”
“Only When It Rains” features another contest winner, Shelagh Brown, as Gracin’s duet partner.
“When we were done recording the album, I was listening to the tracks,” he recalls, “and when ‘Only When It Rains’ came on, it felt like something was still missing. I thought it would be kind of cool to turn it into a duet.
“So I asked the label if, instead of going after somebody else in Nashville to sing on it, how neat it would be to throw a contest out there and give the winner a chance to sing on a major record. … Give them the same opportunity I got on American Idol.”
It was also the feeling that the song “Catastrophe” needed something extra that caused Gracin to enlist Studdard’s help.
“I was in the kitchen at my house writing the song,” says Gracin. “I was on Twitter at the time, and I saw Ruben pop up with a tweet. I sent him a message, told him I had this song that I’d really like him to do something on.
“I wanted to see if we could take it to the next level and do something different with it. He agreed. I drove down to Birmingham, Ala., where he’s at, and he added the whole bridge and [put] a different sound and different feel halfway through the song. It was brilliant. I had a lot of fun writing it with him.”
Gracin says he put so many songs on Redemption — 17, including one with a remix — because he has vivid memories of being short-changed as a young record buyer.
“Growing up as a kid — my family did not come from a lot of money … it was a struggle every day — so we got albums for Christmas or birthdays. In the early ’90s, they were 17 bucks apiece.
“I would listen to the albums and be upset that there were only one or two songs on there that you could listen to, and everything else was like, ‘Why did they even make an album?’
“I really kind of wanted to push the point [with Redemption] that there are still good albums being made and there are still albums where everybody can relate to every single song on there and not want to skip over it.”
Gracin calls Redemption a “very, very personal album.”
“Every single song on there is directly written from something I was going through at the time,” he says.
“‘Get Back to Us’ and ‘Lie to Me’ were songs I wrote right after the album was finished that I felt needed to get on there just because of stuff I was going through. When people listen to it, I hope, one, that they can relate to it, and, two, that they can see I really opened myself up.”