Sunday, May 20, 2007

Buble is anything but 'irresponsible' on new disc

I'll never forget it.

I had just turned onto Beaver Creek Road on my way back to the office from a doctor's appointment. CD player was broken and this was pre-iPod. So I had the radio on, tuned to a low-watt AM station (yeah, it still exists) that plays American pop standards.

Then I heard the voice.

Another summer day has come and gone away in Paris or Rome, but I wanna go home...

I first thought the performer was the eccentric '70s singer/songwriter Stephen Bishop. But, no. This guy had pipes. Smooth as silk. Nice range.

Nearly had a wreck. The tune, "Home," had me climbing the walls.

That was my introduction to Michael Buble.

The Canadian born crooner channels Sinatra so effortlessly it is frightening. That's apparent right from the opening track of his excellent new album, "Call Me Irresponsible."

The best is yet to come and babe won't it be fine...

Can pop music be this good in '07? It's been lifeless for so long, save Harry Connick Jr. and Bobby Caldwell and a few others.

You keep checking the CD cover. You pinch yourself. Yes, this is indeed real. It isn't a dream.

And guess what? It isn't retro either. There's new stuff here, too.

The original single "Everything" flies along at a happy pace. It's probably a bit too happy, too slick, too obviously radio friendly. In Buble's hands it doesn't matter.

But, oh, these covers. That's where it's at, Jack.

Buble reinvents Billy Paul's '70s hit "Me and Mrs. Jones," (we got a thing goin' on...) into something quite delicious. He turns a forgettable cheating soul song into a jazz-influenced, quietly nuanced number. Yeah, he's seeing that married woman. Yeah, it's wrong. But, no, he ain't stoppin'.

There's more Sinatra. "I've Got the World on a String" and "That's Life," the latter complete with a gospel choir backup. There's a little Nat "King" Cole, too, as Buble works magic on Cole's last hit, "L-O-V-E."

Darned if Elvis and Willie Nelson aren't both here, too. "Always on My Mind" was written for The King following his separation from 'Cilla in the early '70s. Willie turned it into a No. 1 smash a decade later.

A familiar song becomes a quiet lament, a beautiful, heartbreaking study in regret. It opens with an understated piano lead, followed by strings and then that voice. Buble's phrasing is impeccable.

It's hard to pick a favorite. Force me to name one and I'll have to choose Buble and Boyz II Men's swinging, playful cover of Mel Torme's "Coming Home Baby." It glides, it jumps, it makes you wish the talented soul/R&B vocal group hadn't faded away in the mid-90s.

Misses? Not many. A cover of Eric Clapton's "Wonderful Tonight," done here as a duet with Ivan Lins, doesn't work. Maybe it's the arrangement. Maybe it's because Slowhand's version was perfection personified. Best part is the sweet harmony between Buble and Lins on the chorus.

I don't care much for the salsa-tinged "It Had Better Be Tonight." But that's just personal bias; I've never liked the song.

It's a shame, though, to say anything bad about this CD. Michael Buble has single-handedly brought back ring-a-ding-ding. That aside, his phrasing, vocals and ethos, even on the contemporary stuff, puts him light-years ahead of anybody singing pop music today.

"Call Me Irresponsible" is an oasis in the desert. I hope Buble never abandons this sound for something more commercial.

And given the fact that he is only 32, here's hoping the best is yet to come...

"Call Me Irresponsible" is now available from Reprise/Warner, on iPod download and at music stores everywhere.

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