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Album Review: Josh Groban - Stages (2015 LP)

Josh Groban has already proven himself as a capable theatre performer, playing Anatoly Sergievsky in Chess at the legendary Royal Albert Hall along with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the West End Chorus. So perhaps it's of little surprise that Stages, his seventh album, is full of songs from the world of musical theatre. It's the album the fans (or "Grobanites", as they like to be called) have been waiting for and the one Josh most wanted to make.

Stages opens with the magical "Pure Imagination" from Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, setting the tone for the record. The album was recorded in both Los Angeles and London's famous Abbey Road with a 75-piece orchestra - and it shows; the instrumental arrangements shine in every track. Josh also teams up with American trumpeter and composer Chris Botti, a regular collaborator of Groban's, on "Old Devil Moon" from Finian's Rainbow. And just like previous Josh Groban albums, Stages includes one non-English classic, the French "Le Temps Des Cathedrales" from Notre-Dame de Paris. I'd never heard the track - or of the musical - before, but this track has quickly become one of my favourite, all-time, on-repeat, can't-get-enough-of Josh Groban tracks.

I'm a sucker for big powerhouse numbers such as "You'll Never Walk Alone" (with Audra McDonald) from Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel, "What I Did For Love" from A Chorus Line and "All I Ask Of You" (with season 1 American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson) from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera, which Josh all performs exquisitely. If a song from Phantom hadn't have been included, I imagine they'd be an uproar! Perhaps the most surprising inclusion is Josh's mash-up of "Children Will Listen" from Into the Woods (most recently seen performed by Meryl Streep in the 2015 movie adaptation) with "Not While I'm Around" from Sweeney Todd. It's surprising yet brilliant, blending seamlessly from one to the other.

I'm a strong believer in only recreating something if you're going to make it sound better than the original. I don't know if Josh has done that, but as a lover of both Josh and musicals, it's hard to fault this album. If I was going to nit pick, I would question his choosing of "Anthem" from Chess. It's not that it's not a great song nor that he doesn't do it justice, it's just that if you were already a fan of Josh's, as I am, you probably have two versions of "Anthem" on your 'OMG Josh Groban is amaze-balls' playlist, as I do. I believe it was a bonus track on his A Collection album and if you're a fan of Josh/Musicals, then you probably already have the CD/DVD bundle, DVD and/or CD of Chess in Concert, which is available to buy on his personal website. Am I the only fan who feels this way?

The other two recordings were live recordings so it's nice to hear a different mix, but with numerous possibilities of musicals and tracks to choose from, it's hard to understand why "Anthem" made the cut. I'm also a little unsure why he choose to put on a second Les Misérables number as a bonus track. Not that it's a bad number, in fact, I personally prefer "Empty Chairs At Empty Tables" to "Bring Him Home" but, having never been a fan of the latter, it's probably my own bias speaking. And "Empty Chairs At Empty Tables" shines. Strength. Power. Emotion. It's easily a stand out, leaving you wanting more and wishing that the album went on for hours longer. Personally speaking though, I would have liked Josh to tackle another musical number instead. If I were going to single one out, I would have loved Josh to attempt "Gethsemane (I Only Want To Say)" from Andrew Lloyd Webber's Jesus Christ Superstar or "Memory" from Cats. It's a big track requiring a lot of vocal skill and technicality, all of which I think Josh would nail. There's always next time!

Nit picks aside, as a fan of his previous works, I love this album just as much as the others - if not a little more. There's not one track that I don't think he did well or that I don't like. If you're a fan of his, make sure you get this album because you won't be disappointed. Just make sure you pick up the Deluxe edition for the two bonus tracks.

Having already shown his interest in musical theatre singing "Falling Slowly" from the 2007 film Once on his previous album All That Echoes, I hope Josh will record more songs like these in the future. Because, clearly, he does a bloody good job at it!

Review Score: 8.2 out of 10.

Stages is out now.