Two CD reviews: Josh Groban, Tim McGraw
Published: February 12, 2013 11:11AM
Updated: February 11, 2013 02:12PM
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CD • Rick Rubin produced Josh Groban’s previous album, and he pushed Groban to develop his writing skills. The result was 11 songs co-written by Groban. The 31-year-old classical-pop crossover singer again makes the decision to write — he co-wrote seven songs on his new album, “All That Echoes” — but he also includes well-chosen covers that provide an illuminating portrait of who he is at this point in his career as well as a glimpse at what seeing him live is like. “Below the Line,” co-written by Groban, is a rousing anthem that was written after he was asked to subsist on $1.50 for one day — a task he fulfilled, living on a can of beans while living on the street. Songs sung in Italian and Spanish provide the serious-musician cred, but he is most compelling when he sings “Falling Slowly” from the film and musical “Once,” the traditional Irish song “She Moved Through the Fair,” Jimmy Webb’s “The Moon’s Harsh Mistress” and Stevie Wonder’s “I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever).” Producer Rob Cavallo, famous for producing Green Day, never lets Groban’s sentimental side overwhelm the album. The results — despite “All That Echoes’ ” string-laden accompaniment — often lean more toward pop than classical. This is a successful crossover effort that should earn respect from rock fans as well as your grandmother.
Grade: B+

CD • Tim McGraw, who will be performing in Utah in June, has finally escaped from his Curb Records commitment after a protracted, bitter legal battle. So his new album, “Two Lanes of Freedom,” is his first on Big Machine Records, and the title is undoubtedly a dig at the record label and his last Curb album, 2012’s “Emotional Highway.” The topics here are familiar: trucks, Nashville, high-profile guests (new label-mate Taylor Swift), country gals, convicts, the Bible, and a drunken ode to tropical drinks. But McGraw sounds back to his old self, refreshed with his new contract, while his gifted interpretation skills are on display on ballads and anthems. The album isn’t an innovative declaration of independence that some expected, but a solid, safe, mainstream album that expands his boundaries.
Grade: B-