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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Now, we're going to hear big music releases this week from two artists. One has sold - oh, approximately 900 trillion albums on the strength of his massive operatic pipes.

(Soundbite of song, "You Raise Me Up")

Mr. JOSH GROBAN (Singer): (Singing) You raise me up so I can stand on mountains. You raise me up...

The other is the king of the monster mash-up. He weaves together snippets of popular songs to create an entirely new album.

(Soundbite of Girl Talk song)

BLOCK: That's a sample of some samples from the mash-up artist who goes by the name Girl Talk. Before that, we heard the unmistakable voice of John Groban. And here to talk about both is our unmistakable music critic Tom Moon. Hey, Tom.

TOM MOON: Hi.

BLOCK: Let's start with Girl Talk. This is actually Gregg Gillis - goes by Girl Talk. Not an album really, but available as a free download - 71 minutes of mash-ups. Explain how he does this.

MOON: Well, he takes little tiny pieces, as you heard. Maybe you recognized a little bit of the Jackson 5 in that one that you just...

BLOCK: It's about the only thing I recognized.

MOON: And sort of massages them using computer software, and brings on top of them some sort of hip-hop track from another artist, and creates sort of this double world - or triple world, in some cases. This project involves something like 370 discreet, individual samples that have been found so far. Maybe there are more.

BLOCK: Yeah, right. And it's a fascinating sort of sequence of stuff. There's one track where you hear - there's Beastie Boys and LL Cool J, Bananarama, Genesis. And this section we're about to play has rapper Lil Jon, Simon and Garfunkel, and just a tiny bit of U2. Let's listen.

(Soundbite of music)

BLOCK: Pretty catchy stuff, Tom.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MOON: Yeah. It's things that you would think wouldn't go together but do - kind of like the musical equivalent of the appletini or something.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: The jury's still out on that one, I think. But you're saying you wouldn't think they'd go together but they do.

MOON: Well, he makes them go together. And the massaging, I think, is where the art is. You know, sometimes you have to slow a voice down or speed up a track. But you know, what we heard from Simon and Garfunkel right there, "Cecelia," something we all - you know, a lot of people grew up with. It's been in the ether a long time. But then in this context, it seems to blossom anew.

BLOCK: So here's the thing, Tom, I listened to all 71 minutes of this download. And it does blend together as one, whole chunk. You can split it into songs, but he sees it as a whole 71 minutes. Do you think it holds up, though? I mean, would you come back to this? Or is this kind of just a party trick - like wow, that's really neat, what he did. But what about after that?

MOON: Well, yeah. It's a good question. And I like his idea that this is actually a full album, and you're supposed to experience it - with all its hills and valleys and stuff like that. And I'm not sure that it's more than an interesting novelty really well-executed.

But there are moments in it where you go, wow, this guy is really aiming to sort of bring something to a crescendo. And then toward the end, he really makes it feel like he's summing up. I mean, the last track has a little bit of Jay-Z, and then John Lennon's "Imagine" and the UGK track "Noonday."

(Soundbite of music)

BLOCK: Well, Tom, let's move on and talk about the other release we mentioned -from Josh Groban. The new CD is called Illuminations. And let's listen to one of the songs. This is called "Bells of New York City."

(Soundbite of song, "Bells of New York City")

Mr. GROBAN: (Singing) There's a pale winter moon in the sky coming through my window, and the park is laid out like a bed below. It's a cold, dark night and my heart melts like the snow, and the bells of New York City tell me not to go.

BLOCK: Now, Tom, this record is interesting. It was produced by Rick Rubin, a super-producer who is much better known for working with hip hop, hard rock, heavy metal acts - the Beastie Boys, Metallica, Red Hot Chili Peppers. What do you make of Rick Rubin producing John Groban?

MOON: Well, when I first heard about it, I was like, well, this could be interesting. Rick Rubin has this knack for getting people - he doesn't have a sound. He's not a producer you hire to give you that shiny sound that so-and-so got. He's like, a conceptual guy. And, you know, as he did with Johnny Cash's career, he seems to find ways to sort of get to the essence of an artist, and help them sort of redefine who they are.

(Soundbite of song, "Bells of New York City")

BLOCK: Well, it's interesting to hear what Rick Rubin said about this new CD. He said he wanted Josh Groban to make an album that would be the favorite of his fans, but would also appeal to people who didn't like Josh Groban. Do you think he succeeded there?

MOON: I don't know about that.

BLOCK: Um, not sure.

MOON: I really feel like this is the same Josh Groban in a different package, to a degree. I mean, basically what Rick Rubin did is, he said all the schlocky -the super-schlocky aspects of Josh Groban's work - the, you know, sort of drums pounding and thundering to the mountaintop-kind of stuff - and he was going to pull all that out, and try and get Josh to work in maybe a studio orchestra setting that would be recognizable to - say, a Sinatra fan.

At the same time, he encouraged Josh Groban to write his own music. And he collaborated with Dan Wilson of Semisonic and some other people - and actually wrote songs that aspire to something between pop music as we know it, and this sort of pop-classical crossover thing that he's been very successful doing.

(Soundbite of song, "Higher Window")

Mr. GROBAN: (Singing) And there is a light from a higher window shining down on you tonight. And the music floats on the breeze...

BLOCK: So Tom, I'm guessing that you have not become a Josh Groban convert here. But you've got to give it to him - the man has some pipes.

MOON: He has an amazing voice. And I came to this wanting to be blown away because of Rick Rubin, and what Rick Rubin has managed to do for other artists. And I guess what I was left with was the feeling that I was watching this romance novelist sort of crank out a new variation of the same story. And it made me think, you know, someday on musical scores, we'll see a marking called Grobanisimo - or overwrought with anguish.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: Okay, Tom, we're going to send those angry e-mails straight to you.

MOON: Great.

BLOCK: Tom, thanks so much.

MOON: Thanks for having me.

BLOCK: Music critic Tom Moon. We were talking about the new CD "Illuminations" from Josh Groban, and the new album "All Day" from Girl Talk, which is available as a free download.

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: This is NPR News.

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