★★★★★

SUZI PRATT A five-star album performance in “Onward and Sideways” by Joshua Radin packs in the refreshing style that captures fans.
SUZI PRATT
A five-star album performance in “Onward and Sideways” by Joshua Radin packs in the refreshing style that captures fans.

On Jan. 6, Joshua Radin self-released his sixth studio album, “Onward and Sideways,” an album that perfectly mixes his old, familiar style of songwriting with a refreshing and personal story that may make this album his best yet.

Since the beginning of his career, Radin has been known for the romantic nature of his songs. His music can often be heard in the background of television shows and movies — his typical style involves very soft vocals with simplistic acoustic guitar strumming, which makes for perfect, sweet music to pair with on-screen romance stories. Featured on popular shows like “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Parenthood” and “One Tree Hill,” Radin may be more popular than it seems at first.

According to his many interviews with music websites and magazines, Radin originally planned to take a year off from music after producing five albums in a decade. During this break, he fell in love — he has stated that this newest album is about the woman he met.

The lyrics are the most important aspect of “Onward and Sideways.” While the album is new, it is very similar in style to Radin’s previous work. Despite this, he somehow finds a way to depart from it enough to make a refreshing album while adhering to his signature acoustic style that listeners have learned to expect from him.

Radin’s love story provides a background for the album that makes for an entirely different musical experience when kept in mind. The album begins with “We’ll Keep Running Forever,” a song clearly about the beginnings of relationships, and how uncertain they are to start. Lyrics like “I hear your car outside / Wonder why we’re waiting / Too scared to cross the driveway,” paired with the slower, softer guitar strums and hesitant nature of Radin’s voice emphasize this anxiety but excitement at the first inklings of relationships.

Listeners will recognize the third song on the album, “Beautiful Day,” from Radin’s fifth album “Wax Wings.” However, for this album, he performs it as a duet with fellow singer/songwriter and past tour partner, Sheryl Crow. The male-female duet on “Beautiful Day” — departing from the solo version on “Wax Wings” — infuses the romantic essence to the song that the entirety of “Onward and Sideways” has, creating a fresher sound and making the track more relevant to the spirit of this album.
Radin has also performed duets with female singer/songwriters in the past, such as Ingrid Michaelson, Schuyler Fisk and Patty Griffin, and he finds it important to collaborate and sing with women on particular tracks. This male-female combination helps Radin symbolically stress the importance of harmony and communication between those in the relationship.

The romance continues with the rest of the album. In “Blow Away,” he details how hesitant he is to express his feelings with lyrics like, “I should have told you what’s on my mind / A long ago / But I can’t find the way / To say that I need you / My words just blow away.”

“Worlds Apart” offers a more emotionally and sonically intimate track, with lyrics like, “Hold me close, and I’ll be there soon / Hold me in your heart.”

The album culminates with “My Baby,” a song that resembles a lullaby, as he summarizes the history of the relationship up to this point and reassures his love for his partner. “Everything before left me wanting more / so I’ll stay, / your baby.” It feels like a resolution to the conflict he moves through during the course of the album.

Radin is successful in combining many different aspects in this album. He’s able to tell his own love story and sustain his signature style while also creating a unique and intriguing new work.

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