November 10, 2005

Jamie Cullum: Catching Tales

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Catching Tales is evidence that Jamie Cullum has now found his niche in the melange of genres in which his music could be categorized. His 2004 debut effort, Twentysomething, was a valiant attempt at transcending the boundaries of traditional musical concepts. It included a swinging version of Jimi Hendrix’s “The Wind Cries Mary;” a sparse, jazzy rendition of Radiohead’s “High and Dry;” a number of standards such as, “I Get A Kick Out of You” and a comical take on Jay-Z’s “Frontin'” alongside a number of originals. But Twentysomething begged the question, “What the hell do you call this music?” Cullum’s own songs were decent, with lyrics that at times bordered on awful. The highlights were those tracks written by Ben Cullum, presumably Jamie’s brother (although this is not confirmed anywhere in the album’s liner notes).

It is hard to believe that over the course of only one year Jamie Cullum has developed so much as an artist. Catching Tales is not so much a radical departure as it is a logical next step. Cullum still seizes the opportunity to put his mark on a few cover songs, including Harry Warren’s “I Only Have Eyes for You,” which Cullum completely stripped down to sound less like an old standard and more like a contemporary Brit pop piece coupled with a jazz sensibility. The result is something uniquely Cullum.

The message here is that if Cullum were ever frightened about being pigeonholed as just another fad in the singer/songwriter craze of the past five years, he has overcome his fears and seems more than willing to punch out a pop tune or sing a confessional verse or two. “Photograph” features piano lines that would surely catch the ear of any Billy Joel fan and the lyrics seem to be autobiographical.

The difference in the sounds on this record can also be attributed to the fact that Cullum moves away from the piano trio feel he previously employed. He adds acoustic guitar and xylophone on the poppy “London Sky” and a tasty Fender Rhodes electric piano segment to “Mind Tricks,” my personal favorite. Written with Ben Cullum, it is funky, fresh and catchy, with a falsetto in the chorus that truly shows off Jamie Cullum’s high register. And although the lyrics are by no means brilliant, they flow well enough that Cullum’s vocal treatment more than makes up for any lack of poetic genius.

Jamie Cullum may be an acquired taste, but he’s definitely worth checking out. Catching Tales may not be his opus, but it is as close as he’s come so far. While Jamie Cullum is neither a typical pop star nor a traditional jazz artist, he can play both styles well enough that they mesh into something uniquely its own.

Archived article by Scott Eisman
Sun Staff Writer