Josh Groban, “Bridges” (Reprise)
When Groban unexpectedly debuted in 2001, the then-20-year-old, baby-faced, big-voiced opera singer had a musical lane all to himself. The idea of positioning a young artist to attract older adults with ballads and standards was new. And Groban essentially cornered that market, with his chart-topping, multiplatinum albums “Josh Groban” and “Closer.”
These days, though, the Adult Music Highway is mighty crowded with Adele and Sam Smith and all the artists who want to follow them. Groban, who exited for a bit to make his Tony-nominated Broadway debut in “Natasha Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812” and to make the impressive 2015 album of show tunes “Stages,” has returned to find himself in the middle of an adult-pop traffic jam.
And his new album, “Bridges,” sounds like he isn’t quite sure how to get out.
Groban offers a little bit of everything here that made him a superstar. He is still hard to beat when he tackles an operatic piece in full voice, even on “We Will Meet Once Again,” a duet with Andrea Bocelli. And his approach on the gorgeous “Musica Del Corazon” is fiery enough to keep up with classical guitar virtuoso Vicente Amigo.
However, he comes up a little short on the more straightforward pop songs. The piano ballad “River” aims for Adele cool, but is slightly off the mark, though he fares better on the Sam Smith-y first single “Granted.” His picks for covers seem a bit predictable, especially on “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” (The deluxe edition of “Bridges” includes a version of Billy Joel’s “She’s Always a Woman.”) Even Sarah McLachlan’s appearance can’t stop the bludgeoning of Snow Patrol’s “Run.”
It helps make “Bridges” sound like a wrong turn. The charming Groban, who will certainly make new fans with his Netflix series “The Good Cop,” needs to loosen up and just head wherever he wants.
GLENN GAMBOA, Newsday
Jake Shears, “Jake Shears” (Freida Jean)
A newly minted Broadway star thanks to his recent turn in the Tony-winning “Kinky Boots,” the frontman of New York’s Scissor Sisters nails his latest role as a hedonistic rock god on this solo debut full of scuzzy guitars and stomping grooves. But there’s an unexpected earnestness to tunes like “Big Bushy Mustache” that suggests Shears isn’t merely goofing on a wild look; he brings real emotion to the act of dress-up, just like David Bowie and Prince before him.
MIKAEL WOOD, Los Angeles Times
• Lil Wayne, “Tha Carter V”
• Alt-J, “Reduxer”
• Cher, “Dancing Queen”
• Rod Stewart, “Blood Red Roses”
• Logic, “Young Sinatra IV”
• Loretta Lynn, “Wouldn’t It Be Great”
• Cypress Hill, “Elephants on Acid”
• Amy Ray, “Holler”