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Jamie Cullum: Twentysomething

The hyperbole that typically bloats profiles of film and rock stars rarely seeps into jazz journalism. Singer-pianist Jamie Cullum is sure to be an exception. Don’t be surprised if such enthusiastic proponents of celebrity flag-waving as Vanity Fair and Entertainment Weekly are all over the diminutive, 24-year-old Brit like a Saville Row suit (though Cullum himself is more comfortable in scuffed tennis shoes and T-shirts).

Remarkably, refreshingly, whatever praise is heaped on him is well deserved. This kid can sing, and swing, and pound the 88s with the sort of reckless abandon that’s guaranteed to make purists squirm. After the runaway success of Cullum’s self-produced, self-financed Pointless Nostalgic in his native land, and the subsequent push by the British press to herald him as “Sinatra in sneakers,” Verve shelled out a purported ?1 million for the rights to this second compendium of jazz standards, peppery pop covers and salty originals. Where much of Pointless Nostalgic seemed derivative of Bobby Darin during his hard-swingin’ Sinatra-wannabe phase-listen to Darin’s ’64 rendition of “Call Me Irresponsible” side-by-side with Cullum’s “You’re Nobody ‘Til Somebody Loves You” and try to tell the difference-Twentysomething suggests the cool exuberance of the twentysomething Harry Connick Jr.

Cullum delivers straightahead readings of “What a Diff’rence a Day Made” and “Singin’ in the Rain” with the cool self-assurance of a Diana Krall, imbues a simmering “Blame It on My Youth” with a maturity most singers twice his age can’t muster, then fries up a funkified “I Could Have Danced All Night” that sounds like the theme song for a rave. He’s as comfortable with Jimi Hendrix (“The Wind Cries Mary”) as Cole Porter (reminding us that “I Get a Kick Out of You” works best as a salute to youthful passion). He can speak playfully to and for his generation with such colorful coming-of-age anthems as the title track (“Don’t let me live for my Friday nights / Drinking eight pints and getting in fights”) and the maybe-I-should-pull-up-my-socks “Next Year, Baby.”

He is, to slightly heighten a Sondheim line from Gypsy, unquestionably a 5-foot, 4-inch bundle of dynamite.

Originally Published