Josh Groban, Closer
By Jerry McCulley
Thanks to a fortuitous intersection of talent and fate, 22-year-old Josh Groban hasn't finished his senior year in performing arts school but has already released his sophomore effort on a major major label. Fans of the young vocal phenom's debut will find much to enthrall them here, even if it nudges the singer closer to the center of producer/mentor David Foster's MOR pop sensibilities.
Eschewing much of its predecessors more overt classic-lite pretensions and pop-rock covers for a slate of dramatic, Eurocentric ballads that serve as a showcase for the singer's inviting baritone, Groban shrewdly positions himself as the American alternative to the Bocelli-Watson crossover axis. "Caruso" may find the singer falling short of its operatic inspiration, but "Oceano" and "My Confession" quickly showcase the singer's true dramatic range (which seems to all but yearn for a bona fide Broadway musical challenge), while a vocal take of Bacalov's graceful "Il Postino" theme uses classical virtuoso Joshua Bell's violin flourishes to good effect.
To his credit, Groban displays some promising efforts at songwriting collaboration on the bittersweet "Per Te" and "Remember When It Rains," while the ambient/ethnic soundscape of Deep Forest's "Never Let Go" offers a teasing alternative to the record's otherwise melodramatic production formula.
Groban has found commercial triumph via Foster's mentoring, but there remains a nagging sense here that he hasn't truly pushed himself as an artist--yet.