by James Garcia Jr.
So you say you’ve never heard of Jamie Cullum? Perhaps you have, but just don’t recall just where? Did you see Clint Eastwood’s powerful 2008 film, Gran Torino? Cullum did the equally moving and Golden Globe Best Original Song nominated title track from the film. If he still is unknown to you, he may very well be doing the best work out there that you have yet to hear.
Cullum is labeled as a jazz artist, but one listen and you’ll find that he is so much more than that. That may cause many of you to stop reading right there; however, I hope you’ll hang around just a bit longer. I saw another list where he was labeled as crossover jazz and I think that one is far more fitting. My oldest son clued me into this artist at the time of the film, but it didn’t take long for me to discover that that incredible song was just a very small part of what he’s been quietly doing for a decade already.
He was recognized in 2003 with a “Rising Star” Award by the British Jazz Awards and as the “British Breakthrough Act” at the 2004 Brit Awards. Early hits included “These Are the Days” from his Twentysomething album, “Mind Trick” and “Photograph” from Catching Tales, but it was the Torino hit and 2009’s The Pursuit which really blew the doors wide open. With a spectrum that includes the Cole Porter tune, “Just One of Those Things”; “I’m All Over it”; a cover of Rihanna’s “Don’t Stop the Music,” which I may shock you by claiming is the far superior version; “I Think I Love”; “I Love This”; and the terribly moving “Grace is Gone.” I have literally played the heck out of this CD for the past two years.
Now Cullum is back with his sixth studio album. This one is entitled, Momentum, and it is exactly that. It takes the bar he has set for himself and moves it ever higher. It is a worthy successor to The Pursuit which should please the die-hards, but also offers some new things. The makeup of the album includes the first single, “Everything You Didn’t Do”, which features a catchy and uplifting background chorus; the very curious techno piece, “Love for Sale”, which I should hate, but find I don’t (check out the uniquely curious video); “Edge of Something”; “Anyway”; “When I Get Famous”, a song that feels like a period-piece which would fit perfectly in a club in New Orleans or perhaps the Cotton Club; the multifaceted “Take Me Out (of Myself)”; the soaring future hit, “You’re Not the Only One”; and the very moving “Save Your Soul.”
One song, “Pure Imagination,” a cover of the Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory tune seems quaint and almost forgettable until you realize its place in Cullum’s life. That film was based on the Roald Dahl book, who just happens to be the maternal grandfather of Cullum’s wife, Sofie Dahl. Once the listener understands this, it makes the song all the sweeter and makes it one of the higher points of the album.
As much as Garth Brooks shook up Country Music, I would offer that Cullum is doing the same with Jazz. He is known as a vocalist and pianist, but brings so much more to the table. He is notorious for doing things like having no set list for his shows and for beat-boxing. He can cover the old standards in a new but respectful way, breathing fresher life into them and take the music of newer artists in a direction even they didn’t think possible–much like with the Rihanna tune– or uplift your spirit and set your feet to dancing with his own original material.
If you love Cullum, you will love these new tunes. I bought the deluxe version of the album which features twenty-one songs, including three extra cuts and live versions of several of the tracks. If you have an open mind that hungers for new music and have yet to take a taste, I hope I’ve piqued your musical interest. He can literally do it all and has been doing so for a decade, with no signs of doing anything but building momentum.