JOSH GROBAN NOEL

$ 16.95

Josh Groban has one of the finest singing voices of our time. The musical arrangements are also majestic. No doubt this CD will be played alongside the Christmas classics of Nat Cole and Bing Crosby in years to come.

The album tackles some of the familiar sounds of holiday music with a charmingly electric array of guest vocalists and a wide array of material. The songs range from the sacred to the secular, while Groban — buoyed in spots by none other than the London Symphony Orchestra — soars in his duets with several music guests. There's even a song with a gospel choir directed by Kirk Franklin.

Groban's smooth and supple voice can be hard to categorize — seeing how his range is somewhere in-between a high baritone and a low tenor — but he always finds and emphasizes the emotional core of these songs. And whether they have origins in pop or classical music seems not to matter. The addition of messages from troops stationed in combat zones overseas on top of “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” is understandably heart-wrenching, and a much-needed reminder that while we go about our daily lives unaffected by wars in faraway lands, this is indeed a troubled world.

Some critics are not at all fond of Josh’s pairing with country singer Faith Hill on the song “The First Noel” — one describing her as sounding like a coyote howling in the background: noisy, and a distraction. (On his radio version of the song, he goes solo...with better results). A far more successful collaboration on this CD is the magnificent duet Josh sings with Brian McKnight on “Angels We Have Heard On High.’ “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” leaves out some of the first lines, but has a grandiose ending featuring the majestic Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

On the bright side, the Latin hymns — “Panis Agelicus” and “Ave Maria” are excellent and bring out the best in Groban’s voice. The latter includes a stellar orchestral and choir arrangement that is awe-inspiring. It is stirring like no one else’s version except Karen Carpenter and Nana Mouskouri. Josh’s “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear” shines brightly. We also like the little French song, ‘Petit Papa Noel.” Josh turns in an absolutely joyful performance of “What Child Is This?” The humility and gratitude in the beautiful new song “Thankful” is expressed melodically and with meaningful lyrics.

Josh is a California native who was chosen to sing a solo in the fifth grade. In the summers of 1997 and ’98 he attended Interlochen Center for the Arts camp in Michigan where he studied musical theater and began taking voice lessons. When he was 17 he was introduced to Grammy-winning producer David Foster, and was asked to serve as a stand-in for Andrea Bocelli during rehearsals for the 1999 Grammy Awards. He was so nervous he had to be talked into it. Rosey O'Donnell heard him and invited him on her TV show, as did Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres and others. Soon he signed with Warner Records and sold more than 20 million recordings in his first ten years. For several years he dated actress January Jones.

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