Standing at roughly just over five feet, acclaimed singer and pianist Jamie Cullum has long suffered tiresome barbs regarding his stature. Those barbs unintentionally took on an added sting with Cullum's marriage to six-foot model and writer Sophie Dahl in 2010. None of this has anything to do with his music, except that as an insightful songwriter, he has often drawn inspiration from his own life, as he does on his eighth studio album, 2019's sophisticated and emotionally unguarded Taller. A reference to the height difference with Dahl, the album's title track is a soulful, old-school R&B groover in which Cullum transforms his literal desire to measure up to his wife into a metaphor for how falling in love can inspire you to be a better person. Showcasing Cullum's bright vocals framed by an earthy mix of strings and horns, the song sets the tone for the album's '70s singer/songwriter-influenced vibe. Cuts like the gospel-inflected "Mankind," the funky "Usher," and the minor-to-major key soul anthem "Monster" are all hooky, buoyant songs that bring to mind the classic AM pop style of Carole King, Elton John, and Billy Joel. As good as these robust productions are, Cullum is at his best when he keeps things pared down and jazzy, as on "You Can't Hide Away from Love," a poignant, deftly constructed ballad that could easily become a modern standard. Similarly, on "The Age of Anxiety," Cullum croons as if he's the last person at the bar, mulling over the future of the planet, concerns for his children, and his own middle-age unease as he finally returns to the comfort of his relationship, singing "Cause I hold onto you/And you hold onto me/A tiny victory in the age of anxiety." Taller is an album of both tiny victories and big anxieties that Cullum wraps in sweeping pop choruses, where the wryly intended puns are balanced by earnest, resonant emotion.
AllMusic Review by Matt Collar