Superstar written all over British singer
"Twentysomething" by Jamie Cullum; Verve/Universal
Singer Jamie Cullum borrows from a range of influences in pop, rock and jazz, and the result is distinctive and irresistible. His major-label debut, "Twentysomething," is a hit in Britain.
The 24-year-old British singer-pianist has the makings of another Norah. His concerts draw rave reviews, and his major-label debut, "Twentysomething," is already a hit in Britain.
Cullum has tons of talent, and while he borrows from a wide range of influences in pop, rock and jazz, the end result is distinctive and irresistible. Harry Connick is the most evident inspiration, but Cullum's music suggests he has also absorbed the best of Frank Sinatra, Stevie Wonder and Miles Davis.
The Norah Jones comparison is obvious, too. Cullum swings harder than the songstress but displays the same impeccable taste, performing tunes by Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Buckley, Radiohead, Cole Porter and Lerner and Loewe. Add to that staggering array five excellent original songs three by Cullum, two by his brother, Ben.
Cullum's expressive voice sounds a little too unvarnished and contemporary to call him a crooner, but he's a stylish singer nonetheless. The falsetto at the end of "Blame It On My Youth" is goose-bump good, and he makes "I Get A Kick Out Of You" fresh and hip.
The arrangements are terrific, too. Hendrix with horns works on "Wind Cries Mary," while strings support a lovely, leisurely "Singing in the Rain." Cullum rarely cuts loose at the piano, but there will be plenty of time for that later, after he becomes an American superstar.
"Living Legends" by 8 Ball & MJG; Bad Boy
|Rappers MJG, left, and 8 Ball's first release, "Living Legends," is rough-edged rap tempered by soulful melodies.
Rap is increasingly focusing on the Dirty South style, and P. Diddy's label smartly signed this veteran Tennessee-born duo, giving them an opportunity to widen their reach.
What are they rapping about? Girls, cars, club and street life common rap fodder, albeit done well here. One of the top tracks, "You Don't Want Drama," has a cool, deep, buzzing beat as the duo directs some internalized anger at some ill-defined, shadowy opponent. It's hard to tell who exactly Mr. Ball and Mr. G are upset with, but it's a fun listen and you don't want that someone to be you.
"Straight Cadillac Pimpin' " is another hot track, with a catchy refrain. The rhyme schemes get a little simplistic as the album goes on, but a guest shot by Twista on "Look At The Grillz" livens things up. Twista raps so fast you'll have to listen to the song three times to catch his phrases, but they're worth it.
So is the album.
"Harmony" by Gordon Lightfoot; Linus
Nearly three decades after he sank the Edmund Fitzgerald, Gordon Lightfoot has resurfaced.
It's been a while since he made the charts, but that's the least of Lightfoot's problems lately. A life-threatening aneurysm left him in a coma for six weeks in 2002, and he's still recovering.
Lightfoot recorded demos of new material shortly before he became ill, and the tapes provide the foundation for "Harmony," his 20th album. Band parts were overdubbed while he was still in the hospital, two concert cuts were added, and the result is an engaging 11-song collection featuring Lightfoot's ruminations on longing, love and the great outdoors.
His voice is thinner and more nasal than when it was a fixture on AM radio, but Lightfoot's folksy delivery remains distinctive. It's like hearing unexpectedly from an old friend.