Often, people throw around the phrase “everything old is new again” without acknowledging the fact that what’s being served up is just that — old, musty and borderline hackneyed. That couldn’t have been further from the case Thursday night in Gotham, at a double-bill of artists equipped with — but not obsessed by — rearview mirrors.
Brit crooner-pianist Jamie Cullum, whose Verve Forecast album “The Pursuit” hit stores last week, is capable of lounging it up with the best of them, as he proved during a recent cabaret stand in the Big Apple. But he spread his wings quite a bit more at this larger hall show, offering both smooth forays into the Great American Songbook and spikier, more brass-and-electronic driven tunes, both classic and original.
Cullum is actually at his best when he travels a middle road between those two approaches, as on a vivaciously jaunty “I Get a Kick Out of You” and a spare, lyrical “Gran Torino” that could prompt folks like Joe Jackson or Elvis Costello to take notes. Now and again, as on a misplaced revamp of Rihanna’s “Don’t Stop the Music,” Cullum came across as too eager to wedge square pegs into round holes. But more often than not, his enthusiasm and genre-bending aptitude created a mood that brought miles of smiles to a hall where it’s not all that common to get up and boogie.
Opener Imelda May, perhaps best known to American audiences for her appearance with Jeff Beck at this year’s Grammy Awards, provided an ideal foil for Cullum. With her blend of torch, twang and rockabilly rebellion, the Irish singer shined brightly on old-school favorites such as “How High the Moon” and freshly unspooled originals like the finger-popping “Johnny’s Got a Boom Boom.”
Cullum and May will perform March 25 at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles.