New on CD: March 3, 2010: Jamie Cullum -montrealgazette.com

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Jamie Cullum

The Pursuit

Verve Forecast-Universal

Rating 3.5 out of 5

Jazz-pop – the very term strikes fear into the hearts of self-respecting music fans everywhere. It conjures images of soft, spineless pap packaged for the tasteless, pseudo-sophistication-craving masses.

Over the course of four albums, British upstart Jamie Cullum has deftly avoided such obvious traps. Covering songs by groups as varied as Radiohead and Jimi Hendrix has helped establish his cool credentials, while his exuberance, singing and performing talent helped him overcome the wallpaper effect of so much contemporary crossover music.

The fun with covers continues on his fifth effort (released in November in Britain), with subjects as disparate as Rihanna and Cole Porter getting the Cullum makeover. He turns the former’s Please Don’t Stop the Music into a sultry, swinging late-night come-on; and the latter’s Just One of Those Things into an album-opening flight of fancy, showing off his agility on the ivories in the process.

He achieves real emotional depth on potentially trite meditation If I Ruled the World; might convert a Coldplay fan or two on the expansive, uptempo Wheels; and conjures piano bar crooners on I Think I Love You.

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Groove infiltrates late-album tracks, including the ballad Not While I’m Around, the house beat-driven Music Is Through (ruined by an overblown chorus) and the reggae-inflected I Love This (with the line “You and I should make out til we’re drunk”).

While he doesn’t quite manage to be the genre-hopping dilettante he portrays, Cullum does get away with a lot more than he has any right to. He’s got more balls than Michael BublĂ© – not that that’s saying much, but it’s nice to have an alternative.

He’s a classicist with an ear to the current, a populist with panache – still a little tame, but hard to dislike.

Podworthy: Please Don’t Stop the Music

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