Buoyed by a so-so Radiohead cover, Jamie Cullum’s splashy Stateside debut heralded the young Brit as a modern fusionist, blending vintage jazz, slick pop-rock, cutting edge electronic swashes, and ring-a-ding snazz into one breezily hip package. Twentysomething, the album from whence Cullum’s overly earnest riff on Thom Yorke and Co.‘s “High & Dry” sprang, was roughly 50 minutes of thin, mostly unremarkable hep-cat compositions that referenced many but equaled none. Surprising then that his sophomore record, Catching Tales, pushes the polyglot approach even further; although he’s still billed as a jazz artist, Cullum seems to have more or less dispensed with attempts at being the English Harry Connick Jr. and settled for infusing ingratiating pop songs with a twist of gin. To wit: “Photograph” is an earnest ballad of the John Mayer school, dolled up with loose, supper club piano and a crackling rhythm section while “I Only Have Eyes For You” is seductively languorous and “Nothing I Do” fairly sashays out of the speakers. It’s not an altogether successful approach (“Mind Trick,” “21st Century Kid” and “London Skies” are just dull and no amount of stylistic tweaks can save ‘em), but given the bland soccer-mom ambitions of his debut, Cullum has at least shaken and stirred his sound enough to warrant keeping an eye on his future.
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