Chances are, if you have watched VH1 in the past six months, you have heard of Jamie Cullum. The British newcomer to the pop-piano scene released his second album, Twentysomething, earlier this year on Verve Records, soon after VH1 picked him up as a spotlight artist by showing a clip of his soothing ballad “All at Sea” during every commercial break. Touted as a male Norah Jones or a hipper Harry Connick Jr., Jamie has a little something extra that could either entice or disappoint an audience, depending on its idea of what jazz should be. On the cover of his sophomore album, a shaggy-haired, leather-clad Cullum is seen animalistically leaping off of his piano, an attempt to show a punk edge to a more classical musician. Even VH1 promoted him as having a “rock sensibility,” but that isn’t saying much, considering they hopped on the Avril Lavigne punk rock bandwagon like it was going out of style, which it was.
But, as cheesy as some of Cullum’s shameless promotion might be, beneath it lies a true talent and some beautiful music. A self-taught pianist, singer and composer, Cullum has a huge appreciation for all types of music, from grunge to hip hop and especially some of the jazz greats, as is displayed by his abundance of cover songs. On the 15-song album, only three of the songs were penned by him, the others ranging from a strained version of Radiohead’s “High and Dry” to a slightly darker version of Cole Porter’s “Get a Kick Out of You,” complete with wry cocaine-snorting sound effects. The album’s bonus track is filled with the potential to break the boundaries of where hip hop can go musically; however, the cover of Pharrell William’s “Frontin'” was an unfortunate misstep on the album, sounding more like Will Ferrell’s SNL impersonation of Robert Goulet than a musical milestone.
Though most of the covers are above average in performance, where Cullum shines the most is in his own songs, with lyrics presenting a certain quirkiness about him that no Jimmy Hendrix cover could. In his title song “Twentysomething,” Cullum croons about the tribulations of being 20-something: “Maybe go to the gym, so I don’t get fat / things seem more easy with a tight six-pack,” while behind him a jazzy sax and flugelhorn follow his lead. Two other songs on Twentysomething were written by Cullum’s older, jazz-loving brother Ben, who also accompanies Jamie vocally on a few tracks.
For being a musical youngster at 22, Cullum is impressive in voice, musicianship and style. However, in order to separate himself from the more stagnant genre of nauseatingly romantic Harry Connick Jr., and wannabe Rat Packer Peter Cincotti, Cullum needs to focus more on his own songs and step out of the safety of other people’s hits.
[Brenna Boyce misses her old pal tre J.]