Although his sound is a decidedly vintage one, pianist/singer-songwriter Jamie Cullum's own "Sinatra in Sneakers" persona is unique to the neo-hepcat set. Although Harry Connick, Jr., comparisons are inevitable, Cullum's jazz-crossover appeal has as much in common with Joni Mitchell's open-ended explorations of the form as it does with any neo-classicism. In fact, 2005's CATCHING TALES features a collaboration with hip-hop producer Dan the Automator: it's hard to imagine Michael Buble doing that.
English singer-pianist Jamie Cullum comes into view as an already heralded jazz-pop artist, signed to a million-pound contract and riding a CD that's already registered double platinum in the UK. The "jazz" label doesn't hang that comfortably on the 24-year-old Cullum--he's more in the mold of polished lounge swingers like Bobby Darin and Buddy Greco and has more in common with, say, Billy Joel (definitely a "New York State of Mind") than any traditional jazz artist you might mention. An ironist who covers both Cole Porter and Radiohead, he's aware of the contradictions that he embodies. Those contradictions drive the title track as Cullum's lyrics plumb "twentysomething" uncertainties ("Maybe move back home and pay off my loans/Working nine to five answering phones") while moving to a mock-primitive chanted riff that's pure '50s hip. What surprises most is Cullum's emotional and musical range, and the way he combines methods to create depth and complexity. "Blame it on My Youth" is delivered with the heartfelt delicacy of Chet Baker, while his reading of "The Wind Cries Mary" suggests that Jimi Hendrix might have just about invented smooth jazz. "I Could Have Danced All Night" explodes with playful energy and creativity, launched with scat singing over a rhythm pounded out on drums and piano wood. Cullum has energy and talent to burn, plus a postmodern knack for layering idioms that signals a welcome direction for jazz-pop. As "Lover, You Should've Come Over" attests, he can also project an emotional intensity that breaks through the clever arrangements. --Stuart Broomer
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