I don’t remember how I first discovered Jamie Cullum. I stumbled upon his Twentysomething CD about seven years ago before I started (legally) downloading music and forewent physical CDs. These days I log on to iTunes and Rhapsody on Tuesdays and check out the new releases.
I’d been blown away by Twentysomething, but I think I might like his latest offering even more. There is a noticeable shift on The Pursuit from jazz go-to’s like “I Get a Kick Out of You” and “What a Difference a Day Made” to a more pop/funk sound. The only standard featured is the opening song, “Just One of Those Things,” which doesn’t seem to belong on the album, especially not as an opener—maybe as a bonus track.
What is similar to his previous releases is the dominance of his piano. It’s like Billy Joel reincarnated—oh, he’s not dead yet. Cullum pounds out riff after riff on “I’m All Over It” (Jacque loves this song) and “You and Me Are Gone.” Showing he’s not just a bumbling fist player, he approaches “Wheels” with a catchy piano line that’ll stick with you all week.
Vocally, Cullum sounds more like he does live. Though I haven’t seen him in concert, I have a couple live albums where his vocals sound less polished. I like the live sound better than the best of a hundred vocal takes in the studio.
Lyrically, at times The Pursuit is a little weak. “If I Ruled the World” is somewhat bland. Watch out on “Music Is Through” when he drops the F-bomb a couple times, which when employed as an adjective or adverb doesn’t bother me as much as when it’s used as a verb. (Since I often have oídos pequeños—little ears—around, and this disc has become a favorite of Jacque’s, I unchecked the song in iTunes so it won’t sync with my phone.) Having dropped the jazz standards, unfortunately, Cullum left behind better lyrics. He’s no match for Ira Gershwin, Johnny Mercer, Cole Porter, and others.
I used to write songs as a teenager, songs I wouldn’t show anybody today. I recorded a lot of these songs with an analog four-track recorder and a cheap Yamaha keyboard and way too much reverb on everything. I’d always wished I could play guitar so I could add that missing element to my tracks. But since I didn’t at the time, all my songs were heavy on the keyboard: piano, Rhodes, string layers, B3s, etc. Jamie Cullum demonstrates on The Pursuit that if you’re a good-enough keyboardist, you don’t need all the guitars. In fact, you have to listen closely for any six-string contributions at all on the CD. With all the guitar-driven music I listen to and play, it’s nice sometimes to return to the likes of Elton John, Bruce Hornsby, and the aforementioned Joel.
The Pursuit will be spinning on my favorites list for some time. And Jacque’s—always a win when your tweener daughter likes your music.