Sunday, March 24, 2013

Playing it safe: Josh Groban’s 6th album channels mainstream music

album review

All That Echoes offers more of the crossover classical music that Josh Groban is well-known for, and takes it a step further in the pop direction

Artist: Josh Groban
Album: All That Echoes

After working with longtime producer David Foster on his first four albums, singer Josh Groban opted to go for a change and work with Rick Rubin on his fifth record Illuminations (2010). Though the effort garnered mostly favourable reviews and sold over a million units, Illuminations became the singer's first album not to go multiplatinum. Undeterred by this decline, Groban decided to make an even bolder move for his sixth record: to work with Green Day producer Rob Cavallo.

To many, the choice may seem both confusing and interesting, and might also leave you wondering: why exactly was Rob Cavallo chosen to helm this project? Listen to the album and you still won't find any clear answer to that question. If the aforementioned names suggest a grand, daring project that sees the raucous marriage of punk rock and classical pop, then that is certainly not what you will find here. All That Echoes offers more of the crossover classical music that Josh Groban is well-known for, and takes it a step further in the pop direction.

Wrapped in lush strings and supported by smooth piano tunes, the dozen tracks on the set deliver a mix of original songs and covers, and, as always, showcase Groban's powerhouse vocals. Lead single and opening track 'Brave' takes the listener to the uplifting territory in the vicinity of 'You Raise Me Up' and 'You Are Loved (Don't Give Up)'. Other songs co-written by the singer include the aching 'False Alarm', the touching 'Below the Line', and the bittersweet 'Happy in My Heartache', as well as the exotic Italian song 'E ti prometterò', a duet with Italian pop singer Laura Pausini, and the Spanish 'Un alma más', which features Cuban trumpeter Arturo Sandoval.

The choice of covers is diverse and interesting, but the songs don't always work as well as one would have hoped. Glen Hansard's 'Falling Slowly' and Jimmy Webb's 'The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress' get impassioned interpretations here, but the traditional Irish folk song 'She Moved Through the Fair' suffers because of a tacky arrangement (Sinéad O'Connor recorded a memorable rendition of this song for the Michael Collins (1996) soundtrack, and even Irish boy band Boyzone offered a far more sublime take on it in their 1996 album A Different Beat), and the cover of Stevie Wonder's 'I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever)', while well sung, feels unnecessary and does not add much to the original.

Ultimately, despite the presence of Rob Cavallo, All That Echoes still gives the sense that Groban is playing it safe and following the same formula as his previous albums, although he is showing a slight more slant towards pop music; why Cavallo was specifically sought out to produce this record remains unclear. This isn't an adventurous romp into the pop rock territory, but a set of competent, inoffensive, songs that proceed in a similar vein to the music he has previously made. The singer still sounds warm and suitably charming. Diehard fans are likely to enjoy his trademark mix of classical and pop and find the record satisfying, but for the rest of us, All That Echoes would have been a lot more interesting if Josh Groban had taken a few risks, broadened his horizons, and ventured into territories that he hasn't visited before.

- By Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 24th March, 2013

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