Jamie Cullum's third album follows on from his second, Twentysomething, mixing original compositions with interpretations of jazz classics and modern rock songs. Undoubtedly Jamie Cullum is a talented pianist and his live shows reveal a great personal charm and enthusiasm for what he does. Unfortunately, that does not come across in his recordings.
There are some good songs on Catching Tales. The album opens with the single Get Your Way where we're asked to believe that Cullum is a lothario. The music is dirty enough but his vocals don't have the hint of danger which would make this truly convincing. Cullum is famous for playing piano but he is a multi-instrumentalist. Second track, London Skies, is based on guitar, although there is a little piano towards the end. Photograph sees him remembering the stories behind photographs, reminiscing about ex-girlfriends, drinking and trying "that stuff" whilst Nothing I Do has the classical sound of jazz; syncopated drums and cymbals and a walking bassline supporting Cullum's piano. I'm Glad There Is You is a very quiet, slow ballad which showcases Cullum's voice and piano to great effect.
There are interesting cover versions. I Only Have Eyes For You is slowed down to a crawl with sparse guitar and piano parts. The Doves' Catch The Sun is changed from a guitar-driven rock song into a piano ballad. His version of The Wind Cried Mary on Twentysomething worked but this song does not. Recently Sinead O'Connor was asked why her album of reggae cover versions has remained close to the originals. She replied that the composers had done their job in writing down how the song should be performed so she didn't want to change them. That's not a sentiment which jazz musicians are likely to agree with but perhaps some songs are more suitable for jazzing-up than others.
Anyone who has seen Cullum live will know that he is a keen percussionist, often drumming on his piano. It's no surprise that Fascinating Rhythm is performed here with the focus on the song's rhythms. It sounds like it was recorded live and that the band were having fun.
The final track is My Yard, another song requesting the company of a woman. This song is more homely, he's asking her to come over to drink some beer and watch DVDs. For me, this fits Cullum's image better than than the lothario portrayed in the opener Get Your Way.
There are 15 tracks on this album and they will appeal to his existing fans. There are fewer cover versions than previously with Cullum at least co-writing most of the songs. There are collaborations with Guy Chambers, Dan the Automator (Gorillaz) and Ed Harcourt but others have been left off, notably his collaborations with Pharrell Williams and XTC's Andy Partridge. Maybe these tracks will appear as b-sides but they perhaps represented the opportunity for this album to move on from Twentysomething. For now we shall have to settle for more of what we already have.