I'm not implying that I want to have direct control over an artist's angle or that I think it's wrong if they change that angle: that's their choice, apart from my opinion about what I prefer from them. But I really wasn't a big fan of All That Echoes and Illuminations. That closer to pop angle just wasn't interesting me, and I felt (with my non-musical ear) as though many of those songs didn't show Josh's voice as well as the songs on Closer did (which, granted, not every album a singer releases needs to push them to their heights--if they're releasing lots of albums, then they can also provide something different). But Stages is like a reminder, if anyone needs a reminder, that Josh has a great voice. There's technical achievement and emotional expression.
As I'm sure you know, all of these songs are from musicals. I feel very uncultured to say that I'm only familiar with eight of the fifteen songs on the Deluxe edition. "Pure Imagination" and "All I Ask of You" are kind of exciting to have on there. "Bring Him Home" is amazingly beautiful and heartbreaking; it's a stellar performance and I'd probably call it the best track on the album. The "Children Will Listen/Not While I'm Around" medley worked well, in terms of both sound and theme. Never having heard them before, I'm getting intrigued by "Old Devil Moon" and "Finishing the Hat." On "If I Loved You," Audra McDonald gives beautiful, rich vocals. In the context of the album, "Empty Chairs At Empty Tables" becomes a commentary on the temporary state of all people--the listeners will fade, the singers will fade, the connection they had will fade; everything, no matter how big it gets, will end one day. This, too, will end--so hurry, go and get the album so you can listen to it now.