Canadian Singer, American Songbook

Michael Buble, with Jann Arden

At the Santa Barbara Bowl, Friday, July 21.

Reviewed by Charles Donelan

To open his set, Michael Bublé came out swinging from behind a corny but effective silhouette screen with “Feeling Good,” a Nina Simone song that has a jazzier, more spiritual feeling than one would expect from someone who clearly venerates Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, and Dean Martin. And so it went for the rest of the evening, with Bublé confidently and subtly updating the crooner image, exceeding expectations with self-deprecating humor and a repertoire of soul, pop, and big-band swing standards. This was no surprise to his fans, of course, but to the ears of one who loves the music but dreads the venality of the Rat Pack, Bublé made loads of good choices.

The first was recruiting fellow Canadian Jann Arden as his opening act. Arden’s passionate set was interspersed with the same kind of funny, spontaneous banter that would later play a big role in Bublé’s performance. Her embarrassment over a slightly risqué remark — “I can’t believe I just said that” — may have been disingenuous, but her music was consistently dead serious and beautiful.

Bublé did not disappoint. Although his version of “Try a Little Tenderness” was more Sinatra-stiff than Otis Redding-funky, his scat-filled “Moondance” out-souled Van Morrison. After a quick jaunt through the audience to high-five the ladies and kiss their babies, Bublé returned for several more glorious standards, including “Come Fly with Me” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.”

“You Don’t Know Me” was Bublé’s best number, and the choice of material represents what is most interesting about his approach. Originally a country song written by Cindy Walker for Eddy Arnold in 1955, it was recorded by pop session men in New York at a time when Nashville still hadn’t let go of the original Opry. This remarkable American song sounds like a country cross between a doo-wop ballad and a slow rhythm-and-blues single, which it became for Ray Charles in 1962. Such mongrel songs, made out of bits and pieces of different popular traditions, seem to suit Bublé. His spot-on Johnny Cash and Michael Jackson (!) impressions had everyone howling with laughter, but at his best Bublé is a strong and original interpreter of classic American popular music. His show was very impressive, and left little doubt that we will be seeing this charming young (just 30) man again soon.

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