tue 09/08/2022

Album: Jamie Cullum - The Pianoman at Christmas | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Jamie Cullum - The Pianoman at Christmas

Album: Jamie Cullum - The Pianoman at Christmas

An homage to the Big Band sounds of Christmases Past

Island Records were apparently keen for half of Jamie Cullum’s first Christmas album to consist of covers, but the singer/songwriter thought otherwise, and simply said no.“When you think of all the people who have recorded “The Christmas Song” [...]”, he has said, “why should I do the same thing?”

With re-heated old chestnuts off the menu, what Jamie Cullum as songwriter with his classy team of arrangers – mainly Tom Richards, and also Callum Au and Evan Jolly – have most often done in the ten tracks of The Pianoman at Christmas, recorded at Abbey Road, is to stay relatively close to the idiom and recognisable models of the Christmas big band songbook.

So, for example, “Beautiful, Altogether” pays an overt homage to the Nelson Riddle arrangement of “The Christmas Song” for Nat King Cole. The mood is set in very similar fashion with silky, sinuous, semitonal strings, seasoned with a sprinkling of celesta and sleigh-bells. When the voice enters it is with the candour and optimism of a rising octave: where Nat King Cole had “Chest-” and “-nuts”, Cullum has “We” and “are” (...beautiful).

Echoes of Christmas songs past are also there in “Hang Your Lights” and “So Many Santas” which feel like homages to Billy May. “The Jolly Fat Man is Back” has hints of Thad Jones, and “Christmas Never Gets Old”, in similar vein, builds gradually and inexorably to the point where Cullum brings out his inner Joe Williams, letting his voice sail powefully right over the top of a big band at full tilt. Which works really well.

The poppier side of Jamie Cullum, well explored in albums like The Pursuit comes to the fore in “Turn on the Lights”, with the sound of Tom Rees-Roberts’s piccolo trumpet echoing the Beatles’ “Penny Lane”.

A different mood completely is established in “How Do You Fly?”, in an arrangement by Callum Au. This one is slower, more spacious, as if Cullum is telling a bedtime story, wanting to instil a sense of childlike wonder. There are french horn countermelodies, over which Cullum’s voice rises up into falsetto. With its earwormish ending, this could be the song that achieves Cullum’s objective, (and perhaps the ultimate aim of anyone launching new songs into the Christmas marketplace), which is to create a heartwarming song that stays around forever.

Incidentally, cautionary tales on that theme are all too easy to find this year: whereas Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas” will be happily notching up its half-century next year, the new Jess Glynne autotuned shocker really deserves to sink without trace by Boxing Day if not before.

Cullum’s Christmas album is good-hearted and deftly arranged. One word of warning: people with any tendency to become grinchy when faced with lazy versification should make sure they steer clear of words like “forecast” in the song “Christmas caught me Crying”, or “sleigh bells” in the album’s opening track. But hey, it’s Christmas.


Good-hearted, deftly arranged


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Explore topics

Share this article

Add comment


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters