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4.2 out of 5 stars
Illuminations
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 13 December 2010
This album is most definitely more of a flying leap than a small step away from Groban's usual musical safety net of epic love songs, sung beautifully in a variety of languages. Most of the expected soaring orchestral arrangements coupled with big endings are absent from this album, to be replaced with folksy, pared-down arrangements, courtesy apparently of producer Rick Rubin's influence.

I wondered what the heck Groban was playing at after the first listen - why change from his tried and tested method of pop/classical crossover to something like this? But the more I considered the change, I began to wonder if perhaps he felt that if he didn't bolt for the door of musical change NOW, he would NEVER break free of the constraints of his hugely popular cover of "You raise me up" and all the songs which fit comfortably within that musical remit, ie. most of the songs on his previous four studio-released albums with some notable exceptions (Weeping being one such exception which springs to mind).

I was uncertain whether I liked this massive change of direction when I first listened to the album, I will admit. It seemed lacking somehow in the soaring power of previous efforts; many of the emotionally wrenching love songs such as Broken Vow, the songs which converted me from cynic to fan, were gone. I was unconvinced by the folk aspect of many of the songs. However, as I listen to it more, I realised I was really starting to enjoy it. There was a more personal, down to earth feel to many of the songs which did not appear on his previous albums much; in particular Higher Window, Bells of New York City and If I Walk Away. They speak not only of love but of heartbreak and occasionally anger. I quite liked this development, and whilst Groban will not be winning any prizes for his lyrics any time soon, I give him a 10/10 for effort. I can't think of anything scarier within the cut throat music business than baring your musical heart for all to see and analyse and waiting for the circling vultures to tear it apart.

One reviewer made the comment that the songs sounded like they came from a bad Andrew Lloyd Webber musical - whilst I can't agree about the "bad" part, I think they, perhaps unconsciously, hit the nail on the head. Groban's background is not classical music, it's musical theatre. This album, in my opinion, has that kind of feel to it, I believe that many of these songs would not be out of place on the West End or Broadway.

Here is my breakdown of the album:

The Good:

* The Wandering Kind - a lovely piece of folk music, laying the groundwork for the rest of the album. I am certain that some fans will wonder, however, why they paid good money for two and a half minutes of instrumental music when they bought the album of a singer. My personal belief is that Groban wanted to show of his songwriting talents here, and I think it works well.

* Bells of New York City - This is a highlight of the album for me. I love the piano riff at the beginning, and think the lyrics are really quite good. A quirky take on the classic love song.

* Galileo (Someone like you) - A strange song - a love song to beauty - but the lovely chorus more than makes up for the slightly twee verses. Showcases Gorban's considerable vocal talents very well.

* If I walk away - You get the feeling that this is a very personal song for Groban. Stripped down, no fuss. Groban shows off his wonderful voice again; no huge, epic key changes or fancy vocal trickery. Lovely.

* Voce Existe Em Mim - classic Grobanesque orchestral power song. His first song in Portuguese. Great stuff.

* Straight to you - This feels like it should be on the West End, sung to the girl who he just can't forget - and I think that's a good thing, personally!

* Higher Window - some slightly juvenile lyrics spoilt this otherwise lovely song. I get the feeling this is another hugely personal effort.

The Not Too Bad:

*Love only knows - nice song, another which you feel Groban has poured his heart into.

* Hidden Away - sweet lyrics, nice music, but not enough of the expected Groban powerhouse vocals to be successful as the first single off the album.

* Au Jardin Des Sans-Pourquoi - nice but not really up my street.

* London Hymn - can't quite work out what this is supposed to be, but a nice piece of music all the same!

* War at home - pretty but sad song; almost an anthem! Uplifting but again some slightly twee lyrics are not entirely to my liking.

The Forgettable:

* L'Ora Dell'Addio - I actually had to play this song again in order to remember what it sounds like. It's nice but it's not as good as his usual big foreign language epic love songs for some reason. Perhaps David Foster should have produced this one.

I swithered between giving this 3 or 4 stars and evidently I decided eventually on 4 as it is a good effort and in my opinion, worth the wait. It is a much more personal effort which shows Josh Groban is attempting to break away from the standard love songs which formed the basis of his previous albums, and for that I applaud him. Must have been a frightening thing to contemplate.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on 21 December 2010
For all Groban fans, this latest CD is an absolute must. Co-writing the majority of the songs on the CD, Josh Groban's rich baritone voice is more amazing than ever. I confess to having been a fan of Josh's since first spying him on Ally McBeal and truly with each CD (this is his fifth) he is growing in stature as an artist. From the wintery sounding 'Bells of New York' to the beautifully haunting Gallileo, this is a fantastic album and one which, I'm sure, if you've not listened to Groban before, you would still enjoy!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
I will tell you why, it is because I wasn't impressed with Awake, and the first few reviews on here (as you can read) weren't very positive. So I thought I would wait, and I did and I forgot all about it

Then they started playing Higher Window on the radio and I loved it. What a beautiful song, it captures you immediately. So I gave in and bought the album and prepared myself for a sense of disappointment

I am a BAD Grobanite! Bad bad bad!

This album is without doubt his finest piece of work, there is not one song, one tune one tiny part I do not enjoy and I hate the fact that I didn't trust my Josh instincts.

War at Home has actually made me cry a little bit, especially at full volume
If I Walk Away has this wonderful rising crescendo effect
Straight to You and Bells of New York have some of the most beautiful lyrics
Love Only Knows is pure Groban, and gives you goosebumps

This album is perfect, and I really don't see it as a "break from his normal stuff" I see it as an incredible album which constantly gets played

I'm sorry I doubted you Josh I won't do it again
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29 of 33 people found the following review helpful
143 Records/Reprise Records presents "ILLUMINATIONS", Josh Groban's latest release has a variety of songs, thought provoking, which makes you think --- Had mixed feelings when I first heard this 13 track album --- Groban is missing the passion, emotion and sincerity he showed in his older work --- Am not too fond of the falsetto he uses on many of the new songs --- Feel that he and Rick Rubin are heading in the wrong direction.

ILLUMINATIONS (Track Listings & Times)
1 The Wandering Kind (Prelude) [2:38]
2 Bells of New York City [3:49]
3 Galileo (Someone Like You) [3:22]
4 L' Ora Dell'Addio [3:27]
5 Hidden Away [3:56]
6 Au Jardin Des Sans-Pourquoi [3:32]
7 Higher Window [4:37]
8 If I Walk Away [3:52]
9 Love Only Knows [4:43]
10 Voce Existe Em Mim [5:06]
11 War At Home [4:44]
12 London Hymn [1:56]
13 Straight To You [4:10]

Mr. Jim's Ratings:
Quality of Sound: 4 Stars
Performance: 3 Stars
Mixing: 3 Stars
Overall: 3 Stars [Arrangements & Song Selection]

Groban is a maturing musician and artist --- Must make mention he co-wrote and composed most of the album --- Overall, just okay. hopefully he will return to my favorite producer and arranger David Foster as that was some of his best work.

Total Time: 50 min on 13 Tracks ~ 143 Records/Reprise Records ~ (11/15/2010)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 3 January 2011
This album's been S-U-C-H a long time coming, I'd feared that Josh might have had the Performer's equivalent of Writer's Block - sadly, I think I was right.

This album has a very folksy feel, possibly the influence of the late & great Kate McGarrigle and her milieu: that isn't a bad thing. However, this new exploration has been at the expense of the fantastic range of musicality that has been the hallmark of all of Josh's previous albums, and I don't think that folk is really the forum that best showcases his stunning voice.

Whilst I'm pleased to see him develop his composing skills - notably the exquisite 'London Hymn' (which is just too, too short!)- he has a way to go before this talent matures. I also miss the really BIG sounds of previous albums, although there are two that come close: 'Voce existe em mim' and 'L'ora dell'addio', the latter melody co-written with the incomparable genius that is Walter Afanasieff (renewed collaboration with Walter would be a good next move).

The rest of the album is OK in an inoffensive but unexciting way. There are nice melodies - 'Bells of New York City' and 'Jardin des sans-pourquoi' - which are pleasant to have in the background, but don't capture my attention enough to stop what I'm doing.

I tend to agree with another reviewer that Josh's French could use some work, and this could well contribute to my lack of general satisfaction in the French tracks. But I totally disagree that his Italian and Spanish need the same level of polish: I would go so far as to say that he's as close to faultless as a foreigner can get. (cf 'Caruso' and 'Si volvieras a mi')

I've saved my only truly scathing criticism till last. Josh, what possessed you to record the ghastly saccharine-sentiment-and-music-hall-orchestration of 'Galileo'? It has no place in an artist's quest for progressive musical exploration. I'll let it go this time, but please feel free to yell at whoever suggested it. And then move as far away as possible from the crassness of this genre!

And PLEASE don't make me wait another several years before releasing the next album.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 25 December 2010
I've been following Josh's career since the very beginning and I've always enjoyed a lot the natural quality of singing which was essentially very clear and pure. Not entirely classical, but not entirely pop either. This for his first two releases. In my opinion, his first live DVD shows him at his best vocally.

By "Closer" I started hearing some straining on his voice especially on the top which was a bit worrying but I thought "maybe he's switching from baritone to tenor so this is work in progress". When he released his 2 middle live albums the nasality crept in to a point where now it's always there and it's really annoying and needs to be professionally adressed - get a new singing teacher!

Awake was a nice album, though showing already some hints of the directions he'd take in Illuminations.

After hearing this new release, I found myself enjoying more the pop-folk-country songs than the "old Josh" ones and that is because the way how he's using his voice in a more non-classical context is making him loose the ease with which he handled his power ballads on the first 2 albums.
So, in my opinion he needs to make a decision: he either goes completely the pop way, or the more classical way. Doing both, no! Also, his French, Italian and Portuguese skills need some SERIOUS coaching... His italian is painful to hear and his french is quite atrocious, I dare say.

Illuminations is an enjoyable album, despite its flaws. There are some nice songs and some very nice soundscapes here and considering the effort he probably put into that, it is rewarded.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 25 November 2010
Let me put this in context - I'm a die-hard Groban fan, who is proud to own (and love) all of his previous stuff, so the first time I listened to Illuminations I was expecting it to be pretty darn good, and I wasn't disappointed.

Josh is definately taking a bit of a different direction on this one (including the opening instrumental prelude) that I can understand may throw some people who know his earlier songs, but I could easily name several of the tracks from this album (including the fantastic Voce Existe Em Mim (my personal favourite), the beautiful Galileo and the lyrically stunning War At Home) that are as good as anything he's ever done.

Illuminations also allows Groban to show his versatility away from the microphone. He has a writers credit on 11 of the 13 tracks, and dusts off his piano to play on several of them.

Don't get me wrong, it's not a perfect record, there are some rough edges, even with Groban's usually impeccable vocals. When you take into account, however, the one-take approach taken to recording, this isn't really that surprising. If anything it's a very brave thing to do - something many artists would have trouble pulling off.

This is one CD that has barely left the player since it arrived, and I reckon it's going to be there for a while to come!!!
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on 27 January 2011
I have been a Josh fan for many years and so could not wait for this album, I have all of his others and this one is by far the best. I am glad that he has a different producer as some of his previous stuff can seem too much and over produced, but this one is softer vocals and definately more introspective than some of his previous albums.
Track By Track:

1.The Wandering Kind 3.5/5- good intro to the album- instrumental, nice music
2.Bells of New York City- 4/5 for some reason this reminds me of the disney film Hunchback of Notre Dame, but as I love that film and the music this is not a criticism- love the piano accompaniament.
3. Galileo- 3.5/5 not one of my favourites, the lyrics are ok, Josh is using his higher voice which I love.
4. L'Ora Dell Addio- 5/5 Love this, lyrics, emotion, Italian Language, Josh- what more could you want- more classical than some of the previous songs.
5. Hidden Away 5/5- A more pop sound, Josh describes as a 'glorified pep talk' almost like you are loved, its great lyrics more easy listening pop- what Josh does best.
6.Au Jardin Des Sans-Pourquoi 4/5- I love Josh in French and this is not a let down, love the lyrics
7. Higher Window 5/5- Love this as well, the emotion expressed so well, amazing lyrics and melody and minimal instrumental accompaniament just josh and his amazing voice
8. If I Walk Away- 4/5- more folky, like this one
9. Love Only Knows- 4.5/5 Again great lyrics, especiialy the bridge 'and I can't live without you and I won't' again Josh using a higher aspect of his voice
10. Voce Existe em mim- 5/5- my favourite on the whole album- in pourtugese, with amazing drum sections to match, just the drums makes this song amazing and the orchestration is just as good and then on top of that the lyrics and Josh's voice! this is one of the best songs on a classical crossover album I have heard in a long time.
11. War at Home 3/5- Ok, can seem a bit boring compared to some other songs, don't love it, don't hate it either
12. London Hymn- 4.5/5 like this very much, short and definately evokes London.
13. Straight to You- 5/5 Runner up for album favourite, this suits Josh's voice so well, lyrics are increadible,Josh really makes this song his own- great end to the album.

This is a must have for any Josh fan- its a mixture of styles and more varied than his previous albums which I like, its good to see him do something different and not just loads of covers that everyone has already heard a hundred times. I love the lyrics and how much more personal this album is, it also sounds more intimate- this is a great direction for Josh- Buy Now, you will not be dissappointed!
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on 23 January 2011
I had never heard of Josh Groban until I stumbled upon the first single from this CD, "Hidden Away" by chance. I was instantly captivated by the rich unique voice and beautiful melody; the song became my favourite track of 2010. I did not hesitate to purchase the CD "Illuminations", despite not usually buying albums from 'classical crossover' artists but preferring the likes of Coldplay, Keane, David Gray. I have not been disappointed by this CD and am still listening to it on a daily basis.

"Illuminations" contains some beautiful stirring melodies, incorporates diverse musical influences from folk to world music and displays brilliant musicianship. The CD has a raw, un-produced sound whilst at the same time many tracks would not seem out of place on a film soundtrack.

I would describe the overall sound of the CD as 'beautiful but melancholic". The highlights for me are the inspiring "Hidden Away" and heartfelt "Higher Window", closely followed by the wistful "Bells of New York City". The instrumental prelude with a celtic feel "Wandering Kind" is a favourite too. Josh Groban has writer's credits on 11 of the tracks and has said in interview that "Illuminations" is a very personal record for him, which is evident from the lyrics and feel of the songs. It is interesting that my favourites are those which he co-wrote with songwriter Dan Wilson, formerly of 'Semisonic' and I hope they collaborate in the future.

Overall, "Illuminations" is, for me, a gem of a CD with some beautiful emotive songs.

Don't keep this CD hidden away!!
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on 21 January 2011
I too have loved Josh Groban's voice since before he became widely recognised, have all his CDs and had eagerly awaited the new one. Having listened to the samples on Amazon, I admit I really wasn't sure I was going to like it.

Having had an opportunity now to play it a number of times, I love it. Yes it's a departure from what's gone before, but give the guy a break - maybe he didn't want to be 'pigeon-holed' into one particular genre. Whilst I haven't listened often enough for all the tracks to be firmly fixed in my head, I absolutely love 'L'ora dell adio' and 'The Bells of New York City' already sticks in my mind. There are so many lovely tracks, all different in their own way.

Yes, on occasion the top notes feel like he is 'reaching' for them and maybe for some, as a comment in one rather harsh review said, his pronunciation in other languages isn't great, but personally I don't agree.

I really love this album, but you need to to make up your own minds - just give it a chance and don't write it off on first listen!
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