A different Josh Groban


I have some questions about Josh Groban and his new album and I am curious to find out the answers. Mainly, what is he doing without producer David Foster in his latest titled Illuminations? Rick Rubin, who is best known for his work with rockers like Metallica and Red Hot Chili Peppers produced Groban’s CD. Josh also does not sing a single song either composed or arranged or produced by Foster in it. Most artists think of a Foster song as a chart insurance. That is something like if all else fails, Foster will not.

I have nothing against Rubin, who does great work. The Metallica albums are excellent. And why do you think kids got to like the legendary Johnny Cash in his later years? He had Rubin as producer. Still it was Foster who discovered and mentored Groban more than 10 years ago. Foster gave him a three million-selling debut CD, Josh Groban, and a five million selling Christmas album, Noel. Say what you will about Foster’s grand manipulative style but he really gave Groban a very strong safety net with everything they recorded. A lot of other artists would give everything just to have Foster in their corner. So was there a falling out? Who ditched who?

Nothing has been mentioned about a feud and the official reason given is that Groban just wanted something different. I understand that he is young and he wants to rock. He cannot be a choirboy forever. I know, his full baritone was trained for classical singing but I have always thought of rock as a very close relative of the classical. Like think of Mozart or Tchaikovsky or Caruso as the rock idols of their time. So I do not see any problem with the voice. Besides he was already showing signs of where he was headed for with the daring Awake! CD. Maybe the right answer is he probably just got antsy singing the same sounding songs again and again.

 And so here it is Illuminations, the very risky project by Josh Groban. Risky for Groban who is out of his comfort zone. But take out his name and you will get a very good album with spur of the heart songwriting, unpredictable melodic turns and a somber, aching mood. The voice still soars but the message is clear, no more choirboy in this one. The songs, most of which were co-written by Groban show a much older man who has felt heartbreak, is very emotional about it and is contemplating what love is or maybe even what life is. Remember, Groban is now 30 years old and the music here is somewhere between Leonard Cohen and Neil Diamond territory.

I would recommend repeated listening to fully get use to the change. After several, then you will get into what he is trying to say and appreciate what he accomplished. This is no easy to like Foster album but Illuminations has other things going for it. Groban, it turns out is a good pianist. So good in fact that he got to play in all of the cuts. The arrangements are very interesting and range from the pared down to the symphonic. Drums were used in only one cut. Find out which one when you listen. What you hear mostly are his piano, acoustic guitars, organs and even Celtic strings in If I Walk Away.

Josh is also quite a linguist and sings here in Portuguese Voce Existe Em Mim (You Exist In Me); Italian, L’Ora Dell’Addio; and French, Au Jardin Des Sans Pourquoi (The Garden Without Whys). Galileo (Someone Like You), a sweet love song is of Irish origin. These four songs are some of the best cuts in the album. Best of the lot though, is the collection’s only cover. It is amazing what he did to Nick Cave’s Straight To You. The stripped to basics rocker turned out to be just beautiful.

Also included are the Prelude, an instrumental piece Josh composed as a boy; The Wandering Kind, Bells Of New York City, Hidden Away, Higher Window, If I Walk Away, Love Only Knows, War At Home, and London Hymn. These vary in style and point to different directions but are all very strong compositions. I would love to find out how his next album will sound like and because I do also like his old songs, when he will do another album with David Foster.












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