Groban's bedroom baritone embraces an eclectic mix
The Boston Globe
November 11, 2003
By Richard Dyer
Josh Groban is an improbable phenomenon -- an all-American kid who made a popera album that sold 5 million copies, singing in a romantic style one associates with older European artists. Now 22, Groban has followed it up with "Closer," from Reprise Records, which will probably do even better. It's an eclectic collection of songs old and new -- the great Luciano Pavarotti/Andrea Bocelli hit "Caruso," a standard associated with Edith Piaf ("Hymne a l'Amour"), a film song ("Mi Mancherai" from "Il Postino"), and three ballads co-written by Groban.

He sings in plausible Italian and Spanish and somewhat less convincingly in French, as well as in English. He's a solid musician, who plays the piano on one track ("Remember When It Rained"), and the half-trained, half-natural sound of his developing voice makes him sound vulnerable and sincere, qualities he shares with Bocelli. Also like Bocelli, he doesn't go out of his way to "sell" a song; he prefers just to sing it. His greatest asset is his timbre, his sound, a vibrant baritone that is inching its way into tenor territory; Groban unleashes several solid high B-flats on this album. But he doesn't push his luck; he knows he has a caressing bedroom voice, not a croon, which is far sexier than his curly-mopped, wholesome post-adolescent persona.

He exercised more creative control over this album than its predecessor, and it is mostly better; he's lined up some interesting collaborators, including violinist Joshua Bell, who contributes a luscious obbligato to "Mi Mancherai"; Eric Mouquet, from the French world-music duo Deep Forest, wrote the music for Groban's lyrics, and Deep Forest performs on one of the tracks.

Groban, who sang for a television audience of 1 billion people at the Salt Lake City Olympics, is planning his first major tour next year; it will be interesting to hear him live, because the major drawback of both of his albums is that several tracks are grotesquely overarranged and put an indistinct and swimming focus on the voice -- which is what people want to hear.