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It Was Great Fun

7 Mar

All you really need to know about Jamie Cullum is right there in the lyrics of the song “Mixtape,” which appears on his new album The Pursuit.

The song — which name-checks Nine Inch Nails, Louis Armstrong, Morrissey, John Coltrane, Cinematic Orchestra, De La Soul, Thelonious Monk, the Shangri-La’s, and more — indicates the wide range of musical influences that are running ’round Cullum’s head, and which result in a wide-ranging live show, such as the one he put on Saturday night at the House of Blues in Boston.

(And if the list of influential artists doesn’t give away what Cullum’s live shows are like, then the image of an exploding piano on his album cover surely does.) Continue reading

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Not Over Him Yet

2 Mar

I wish Jamie Cullum made it easier for me. For the past four months, I’ve been hard-pressed to find one favorite track on his new album, The Pursuit. I started off liking the raucous swinger “You and Me Are Gone” the most, then moved on to first single “I’m All Over It,” then side-tracked to the lovely “Love Ain’t Gonna Let You Down.” If you’d asked me two weeks ago, I might have told you my favorite track was “Mixtape,” but at this present time, it’s actually Jamie’s beautiful cover of “Not While I’m Around,” from Sweeney Todd. Which is not to say that the other tracks on the album are bad, and nor does it mean I’ve tired of the ones I no longer deem my favorite. It’s just that The Pursuit is such an enjoyable album that I’ll just get stuck on one song or another, and for a time, it’s all I’ll want to listen to.

When I first learned last summer that Jamie was coming back in November with a new album after a five-year absence, I was excited. So when I learned the album was only being released then in Europe, I was so frustrated that I ended up downloading it illegally. But it was so worth it, and now that the album is finally hitting U.S. stores today, I’m looking forward to buying it for real — the deluxe edition, of course, which comes with an additional four tracks and a bonus DVD.

I’ve been a Jamie Cullum fan since 2004, when I first read about him in Entertainment Weekly and ran out to buy his U.S. debut, Twentysomething. Since then, I’ve also seen the now-30-year-old British singer live a handful of times (never missing a show when he came to Boston), and I’ve tried to turn as many people as I can on to his music.

If you still haven’t heard Jamie’s music, then you’re going to have to take my word for it and go pick up The Pursuit. A collection of eight originals and four cover songs that includes the above songs, plus Jamie’s stripped-down, frisky take on Rihanna’s “Don’t Stop the Music” and his big big-band version of Cole Porter’s “Just One of Those Things,” The Pursuit includes jazz, ambient, rock, pop, and swing influences, and it shows significant growth from Twentysomething (and his 2005 release, Catching Tales), when Jamie was dismissed by critics as “Sinatra in Sneakers.” It’s a mature, confident album that should win Jamie a ton more fans here in the States, people who might be resistant to jazz but could be taken in by his more edgy, house-driven sound. I can’t really recommend this one highly enough.

Of course, if there’s one thing I like more than Jamie Cullum’s albums, it’s his live shows. Jamie hits the House of Blues this Saturday, and I’ll be there. Can’t wait. Till then, I’ll keep listening to The Pursuit, and who knows … by Saturday I may even have a different favorite song.

Love Ain’t Gonna Let Me Down

14 Feb

Contrary to popular belief, I really don’t have any problem with Valentine’s Day. Sure, I’d probably like it more if I had someone to spend it with, but who needs another person? As the Beatles sang, “All you need is love.” Or, to quote Stephen Stills, “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.” And that’s why today, like in years past, I’ll be spending the day doing things I love: I’m going to sleep late. I’m going to have brunch. I may go to a movie. I’m going to talk with my niece. I’m going to watch the season premiere of The Amazing Race. I’m sure I’ll have some form of cake. And I’m sure I’ll listen to some great music, including Jamie Cullum’s “Love Ain’t Gonna Let You Down” and Dave Matthews Band’s “You and Me.” It’s going to be a lovely day.

So, whether you’re single or in a relationship, I wish you a very Happy Valentine’s Day, and a day full of love.

Can’t Stop the Music

7 Nov

You might call this a case of “Desperate times call for desperate measures” — relatively speaking, of course.

Monday, Jamie Cullum‘s new album, The Pursuit, will be released in the U.K. and all over Europe. I’m a very big Jamie Cullum fan, have been for years, and for a while now, I’d been banking on the fact that the album — Jamie’s first in more than four years — would be released in the U.S. a day later, on Tuesday. That’s how it usually works, after all (though one wonders why albums don’t just drop on the same weekday around the world). Well, last week I got an email telling me that in fact, the U.S. release would not happen until March 2.

Suffice it to say, I just couldn’t wait that long. I mean, that’s crazy, right? Releasing the album in Europe, and then waiting four months to do it here? Especially after a four-year gap between albums. Jamie may not be a household name in the U.S., but he’s hardly an unknown, brand-new artist (Pursuit is actually his fifth album, though not all have been released in the U.S.). People like me are going to notice if he has an album out elsewhere in the world, and they’re going to want to get their hands on it now.

So as any enterprising person would do, I went on a pursuit of my own, and set off to find the album somewhere on the Interwebs. Before you could say “I’m All Over It Now,” I found a site (actually, a couple of them) where I could download all 12 tracks, for free, before the album had even been released overseas. It was almost too easy. Isn’t the Interwebs great?

Now, before you get all huffy and accusatory on me, and tell me I’m “stealing music,” you should know this much: I have every intention of buying the album when it’s officially released over here next year. In fact, I’ll probably even go for the deluxe edition (assuming I have the same option as the European fans), which includes bonus tracks and a DVD. I support artists I like, and I want this album to do well.

Speaking of which, let me say this: The Pursuit is great (of course it is). More mature, confident, and experimental than Jamie’s previous albums, Pursuit features some impressive tracks, such as his take on Cole Porter’s “Just One of Those Things,” Stephen Sondheim’s “Not While I’m Around” (from Sweeney Todd), and Rhianna’s “Don’t Stop the Music.” The originals “Love Ain’t Gonna Let You Down” and “Mixtape” are cool. “Music Is Through” will be a hot number when Jamie plays live, as will the raucous swing tune “You and Me Are Gone.” The dramatic “If I Ruled the World” erases any memory of Tony Bennett’s more-famous version. In short, Jamie’s come a long way from his U.S. debut, Twentysomething (a long way from his follow-up, Catching Tales, too), and he’s pretty much blasted out of the “jazz singer” box that some have painted him into (just in case the album cover wasn’t symbolic enough for you). The Pursuit is well worth the wait.

But let’s not miss the larger point here: In the age of the Interwebs, you can’t keep devoted music fans waiting. If an album is out in one part of the world — and it’s going to be hyped in other parts of the world with emails, on Facebook, Twitter, and a podcast — then it should be out everywhere. Otherwise, you can’t blame a guy for finding it on his own, especially when it’s this easy.

Listen Up

23 Sep

Tuesday was one of those big multimedia purchase days that I have every so often.

The third season of 30 Rock was released on DVD, and David Gray, Mika, and Harry Connick Jr. all released new albums.

When I was at Costco, I noticed that A.J. Jacobs had a new book out, so I grabbed that, and because I hadn’t purchased it yet, I also picked up the third season of Brothers and Sisters on DVD.

A mixed bag of music for sure, and maybe not your tastes, but I always enjoy new stuff from artists I like. (The David Gray album is particularly good. I’ll let you know about the others when I hear more of them.) Continue reading

Start All Over Again

31 Dec

When it comes to New Year’s songs, many people are fond of “Auld Lang Syne” or “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” But I prefer some of the new stuff, like Dan Wilson’s “What a Year for a New Year” and Jamie Cullum’s “Next Year, Baby.” The latter tune in particular is a favorite (I love how he makes all sorts of resolutions that he knows he’ll never keep), so on this eve of a new year, I thought I’d share it with y’all right here. Enjoy.

Mr. Kowalski’s Neighborhood

29 Dec

In Gran Torino, Clint Eastwood plays a grizzled old man named Walt Kowalski.

A Korean War veteran, Walt is one of those Midwestern guys so set in his ways and his beliefs that the slightest deviation sets him off. He’s intolerant of others who aren’t like him, insulting to every race, and he doesn’t have much incentive to change his ways.

He’s Archie Bunker without the laugh track.

To paraphrase someone else’s metaphor, he’s John McCain in a Barack Obama world.

So as you might assume, Walt’s not taking too kindly to the Hmong people who have moved next door (and throughout his neighborhood) and who are disrupting his status quo. Continue reading