A guy with chart-topping hits, an industry award for Songwriter/Artist of the Year, and critical recognition as "the future of Christian pop"—all well before age 30—should be walking around feeling lighter than air, right? A strong faith and a healthy marriage are even higher in that mix. So no one was more surprised than Josh Wilson when he had a serious panic attack last year.
"My strange symptoms culminated in severe chest and shoulder pain, difficulty breathing, and almost passing out," he explains. "My wife took me to the emergency room because we thought I was having a heart attack."
After several tests a doctor confirmed what had happened, and Josh went home thinking the out-of-nowhere anxiety rush was a weird one-time event. But it wasn't, and the melodious storyteller was soon waking up frantic in the dark, even canceling performances for fear of losing control. Reconciling these unexpected shades of emotion with his long held beliefs has come to define Wilson's intentionally joyful, duly heart-touching new album, Carry Me.
"Philippians 4 says, 'Do not be anxious about anything . . . the peace of God will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.' I prayed for that and each day would say, 'God, I can't make it without you. I literally can't breathe without you. I need you to carry me.' And He did carry me, and He still does. He carried me through each day even before I experienced the anxiety, but I just didn't realize it. It took these difficult moments for me to realize how much I need Jesus."
That theme of divine support—heaven's light seeing us through earth's dark valleys—brightens every corner of Carry Me, from its opening universal anthem to the quiet introspective finale. And the artist's insight first found on previous No. 1s "Savior Please" and "Before the Morning" matures in ways that early fans predicted it would.
Produced by Matt Bronleewe (Chris Tomlin), the eleven-song set stands out sonically for its heightened rhythmic contributions from drummer/programmer Jeremy Lutito (Leagues) and bassist Tony Lucido (Kelly Clarkson), coupled with the addition of strings and woodwinds to Josh's friendly, assuring voice and often noted, acoustic-based multi-instrumentation.
Folk-flavored guitars meet punchier production right off the bat with "Pushing Back the Dark," a beaming reminder to Christians that, no matter how stormy we may feel inside, there is a bright hope within each of us: Let your light so shine / Don't underestimate the God you follow.
The title track is equally uplifting and empowering despite its dark night of the soul confessions. Giving a clear account of his recent burden, Wilson finds blessings in the brokenness of anxiety.
"You feel like you're dying, like this is the end. You simply have to cry out in desperation," he says. "I don't like that feeling, but it can be a good thing. For any time I may have given lip service to Jesus in the past, this was very hands on—a really good wake-up call."
To that point, the especially pop-driven and radio-ready "Faith Is Not a Feeling" has Josh admitting, We all know emotions ebb and flow / Some days I gotta trust what I already know / Even on my darkest days I'm gonna keep believing.
"We get so caught up in feelings and let them dictate our life," Wilson says of the bouncy song that he hopes listeners will want to put on when they drive or exercise. "But on days I don't feel faith, it doesn't mean I don't have faith. I look back on my life and don't rely on the moment."
Further in, Carry Me faithfully celebrates the gift of life itself and what a precious thing it is to receive another day, to encounter friends, and sometimes get a glimpse of God's bigger picture.
Written after a near plane crash when a bird-strike caused fire in the engine, "Wake Me Up" is what Josh calls "the prayer for my life and this album." Reminded by the emergency landing to live as if each day were his last, Wilson asks God to light up my heart / do whatever it takes to wake me up. Similarly, the stirring "Let There Be Light," connects creation to now when it begs: Chase out the shadows and kick down the doors / I've finally decided to let the light in.
Already a crowd favorite, "I See God in You" lets in plenty of light. A James Taylor-like meditation upon the lives of Josh's widowed 94-year-old neighbor and a special needs child he met at a concert, this gentle piece reflects on circumstances that could read as cloudy but rather shine in light of God's grace.
"That's a true story. The 'Lilly Grace' I mention lives next door, and visiting with her is so inspiring," he says. "Her Bible is so worn—she has read through it every year since 1968. I just sit and listen, and I see God in her eyes. The second verse is about a boy with Down syndrome that I met while touring with Steven Curtis Chapman. It was my joy to sing for him that night."
The impact of the track actually carries over to "Grace Enough for You," another real-life report that took shape after a woman heard Wilson sing a first draft of "I See God in You" live.
Josh remembers, "She said, 'You need to put that on your record. My grandmother just died at 94, I have a special needs child, and I don't feel like I'm doing things right.' I asked her if she had heard all this Jesus stuff before, and she hadn't. I got to share the gospel right then."
Carry Me finishes with the jubilantly philosophic "Symphony," two diverse tributes to love (the playful "What a Mystery" and poetic, romantic "One Safe Soul"), and the beautifully written and arranged "What I See Now."
The latter is Josh Wilson's masterpiece thus far, a personal remembrance of being a childhood outcast, a lonely college graduate, and now a 29-year-old who still feels like a boy sometimes, needing to be carried. Singing softly over guitar, flute, marching drums, strings, and xylophones, he looks back and ahead knowing Christ is our constant and will do the heavy lifting.