Four long years after the release of his self-titled debut, Josh Gracin returns with We Weren’t Crazy, a full-throttle, balls-to-the-wall effort that, despite its obsession with tempo, reads as the most sincere country effort yet from an American Idol alumnus.
The album avoids all of the song-traps that artistically doom so many of its contemporaries, from the overwrought tear-jerker, to the ‘slice of life,’ to the lesson song. Gracin makes no play to religious sentiment, nor to loving country life, nor even to patriotism. We Weren’t Crazy contains not an ounce of pretense.
Gracin demonstrates both great discipline and great bravery here when it comes to song selection, piecing together a collection that is considerably substantive and surprisingly emotionally complex: “Invisible” is a love song peppered bittersweet, which Gracin delivers with passion and the tinniest hint of envy, while “Sweet September” compellingly captures how the gravity of a moment can stick to us forever.
Indeed, We Weren’t Crazy is a near flawless set of contemporary country material, and Gracin handles each song capably (and at times brilliantly). As an album, however, it falters beneath the weight of a significant lack of contrast born from his seemingly unrelenting desire to perform in overdrive.
Tempo isn’t intrinsically a bad thing, especially for an artist who will live and die by his ability to appeal to a young, pop-country oriented audience. But there is a point at which too much tempo becomes awkward, and that threshold is certainly reached and surpassed on this sophomore effort, an album that essentially never takes so much as a moment to catch it’s breath.
The end result of this onslaught of speed and power (heavily compressed guitars and crescendoing choruses abound) is that there develops a sense of distance between the singer and his audience. On a record that is being promoted as deeply personal, Gracin seems to consciously avoid intimate musical settings, instead remaining well within the comfortable confines provided by the type of songs that inherently utilize slick production and robust arrangements.
The true test of a vocalist, however, is how he handles a song when there exists only the melody to rely on, when there are few sonic distractions which divert the listener’s attention and downplay the importance of the voice and delivery. We Weren’t Crazy fails to prove that Gracin can thrive in those quiet musical moments.
Burning too hot for too long, it is a solid effort that would greatly benefit from one or two standout ballads, and which, despite its many strengths, ultimately falls short of artistically exceptional.