Album Review

Josh Groban, 'Illuminations'

November 22, 2010

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Josh Groban, a man for whom every note must be belted to the balcony, could easily spend the rest of his career coasting on the explosive success he’s had in his 20s. With just four albums, he’s already a lion of classically minded pop music as epic as the apocalypse. It’s refreshing, then, to see Groban hungry for something different on “Illuminations.’’ Not radically different, mind you, but the singer does turn inward and tame some of the bombast that’s made him both famous and critically reviled. Produced by Rick Rubin, who’s known for distilling artists to their essence, the album carefully frames Groban’s talent in a cozier context and features some of his own compositions. Occasionally the music wraps around Groban’s vast baritone in subtle and supple ways; “Higher Window,’’ in particular, teeters between majesty and intimacy as acoustic guitars glide over orchestral crescendos. A crashing climax is never far away in these songs. On “If I Walk Away,’’ a humble mandolin melody soon enough segues into a storm of strings and Groban’s voice on high. If not quite a renaissance, “Illuminations’’ at least suggests Groban is finally ready to let some more light in. (Out now) JAMES REED

ESSENTIAL “Higher Window’’