Jamie Cullum: Catching Tales

I'm coming into this one with mixed expectations. Some friends said he was incredible live, but he seems like the kind of overhyped young artist who is worth ignoring.

The light jazz of the opening track, "Get Your Way," makes me nervous, but I have to admit that it's kind of catchy. If I'd known that Allen Toussaint and Dan The Automator were both playing on this song, however, my expectations would have been much higher -- and the song wouldn't have met them.

The second track, "London Skies," sets the tone for much of the album. His voice carries a raw waver that suggests he's not afraid to let an imperfect vocal performance shine, a rare and courageous move for a young singer. Unfortunately, the chorus devolves into the kind of generic pop that lends itself to supermarket play lists.

We don't hit a true ballad until Track 8, "I'm Glad There Is You." His delivery and the arrangement remind me of Annie Ross, but without the toughness that she had late in her career. So far, it's the best song on the album, but that's not saying a lot.

"Oh God" sets up a nice piano groove, and the drums quietly push up the intensity. His vocal delivery is good, but this is a song that requires some wailing and he never lets go. This might be the biggest failure on the album, if only because it had the potential to soar above the rest of the songs.

Jazz-inspired music is rarely fun, but Jamie doesn't have this problem. The playfulness of "7 Days to Change Your Life," with its snake-oil salesman and desperate consumers, makes me smile. But when his playful side fails, it fails hard. "Our Day Will Come" is a fusion of samba, reggae, and unhip white dude. It's not a good mix, and the album would've been better if this one had been saved for the posthumous box set.

I like the openness of the lyrics in the closing track, "My Yard." A guy is inviting his girl over for some DVDs and conversation and maybe something else. The playfulness remains, and the music is light and catchy. But that's probably the biggest flaw with this album: it's too damned light. Not that music should always be heavy and serious, but this consistently falls short. I feel like I'm trying to satisfy my hunger with a can of diet soda.

Music: 2.5 EPFL library cards out of a possible 5
Everyone on the album can obviously play, and play well. Cullum understands that vocal flaws should be treasured, not erased. However, the performance as a whole never delivers anything outside of the ordinary. He writes good songs, but he does the same thing with nearly every chorus. With that said, it's tough to make a unique songwriting impression in this genre, and he proves that he can hold his own against some serious heavyweights. The lyrics are clever and funny and sometimes bitter, with occasional touches of wisdom like "When I look back on my ordinary, ordinary life / I see so much magic though I missed it at the time."

Packaging: 1.5 EPFL library cards out of a possible 5
He's a cute kid, but the cover is ass-ugly. The liner notes contain lyrics and the obligatory thank-you's, but nothing else. The lyrics are neat looking, but they're annoying to read. Fortunately, he enunciates clearly and the album is well-produced, so it's easy to hear what he's saying without ever referring to the lyric sheet.

Listen if you like: Stevie Wonder, Harry Connick Jr., Level 42

If it were food, it'd be: Unripe strawberries. You can imagine how good it could be, but you're stuck with how it really is.


bob_vinyl said...

I came to the same conclusion about it being light after about 30 seconds. I feel bad for you that you listened to the whole thing.

Layla (aka Barbara) said...

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