Josh Groban , “All That Echoes” (Reprise)
JGroban dances on the line between formal crooner and pop singer, and he steps a little too far over both sides — which is probably the best way to keep all of his fans happy.
Groban is all about juxtapositions. The 31-year-old native of Los Angeles is a classical-ish singer with a baritone-ish voice, though he has a spontaneous, witty public persona and has starred in comedic roles in projects ranging from TV’s “The Office” to the film “Crazy Stupid Love.” So he’s not the stuffy guy typically associated with his singing style.
Like the vocalist, “All That Echoes” is about accessibility — to a point. First single/opening track “Brave” is uplifting, buttoned-up pop, and Groban only slightly polishes up his covers of Choir of Young Believers’ stark “Hollow Talk” and Glen Hansard/Marketa Irglova’s Oscar-winning “Falling Slowly” (from the movie “Once”).
Elsewhere, Groban picks up the pace with the breezy, Latin-leaning world-music track “Below the Line” and even hints at country in the pop-rock ditty “Happy in My Heartache.”
Yet he generally comes across as at least a tad stilted in anything mainstream or casual — such is the burden for a precise, powerful voice — and he sounds much more at home in the lush, piano-driven cover of Jimmy Webb’s “The Moon’s a Harsh Mistress” and singing along with harp and uilleann pipes in his version of the old Irish gem “She Moved Through the Fair.”
Although Groban’s style can be too fussy, his passion is impressive and his skill is undeniable, both for his vocal delivery and for his business acumen in cultivating and serving a broad audience.
Chuck Campbell, Scripps Howard News Service
Radar Brothers, “Eight” (Merge)
On the Radar Brothers’ eighth album, the Los Angeles guitar rock group founded by Jim Putnam continues its gradual, if at times glacially paced, expansion. Twenty years after its formation, the band has thickened its sound with more dynamic layers and arrangements.
The Radar Brothers have continually worked on creating the perfect languid guitar rock song, as if orbiting an ideal that they never quite seem to touch. The band does one thing really well, and whether one of the 11 songs on “Eight” hits the sweet spot in your heart will depend on mood, weather, planetary alignment or some combination thereof. None of these tracks are clunkers, but none will redefine guitar rock, either.
Ever patient with its pace, “Eight” seldom shocks with grand gestures or ridiculous hooks. Rather, at their best — the pedal-steel warble of “Couch,” the crisp guitar layers of “House of Mirrors” and the oblong bass line that turns the song awkward on the closing gem “Horse Down” — Putnam and company increase the heat gradually, adding washes of drama until structures nearly buckle under the combined weight.
Randall Roberts, Los Angeles Times