Review of Josh Groban
By Jerry McCulley
There are worse things in life than making your acting debut on the much ballyhooed season finale of Ally McBeal, though teen operatic baritone Josh Groban doesn't seem destined to encounter them anytime soon. As the awkward high school student-client who asks the typically romance-jinxed Ally to his senior prom, Groban performed this debut album's "You're Still You" (adapted from film-composing legend Ennio Morricone's Academy Award-nominated score for Malèna, with lyrics by Linda Thompson) as a heart-tugging, literal showstopper. The young phenom was just 17 when veteran producer-writer David Foster tapped him to fill in for Andrea Bocelli at rehearsals for the 1999 Grammys, where Groban found himself suddenly dueting with Celine Dion.
Indeed, such were his fortunes that the young Foster protégé was forced to drop out of Carnegie Mellon when professional commitments--including this record--interfered. And if this collection tends to hew sometimes uncomfortably close to Foster's own MOR sonic instincts, the material offers enough challenges to display Groban's talent and the potential of his warm, mature voice: a lyrical take on another Morricone classic, "Cinema Paradiso"; melancholy readings of Don McLean's "Starry, Starry Night" and Albert Hammond's "Alejate"; masterfully dramatic takes of the Neapolitan "Alla Luca Del Sole" and "Canto Alla Vita," the latter featuring the Corrs. Many of Groban's performances here, including a neo prog-rock-opera take on Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" (with Lili Haydn), seem both bigger and bolder than their precious musical frameworks, a telling hint that Grand Opera can't be far from his grasp. As said earlier, there are worse things in life.