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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