Move over, Harry Connick Jr. There's a new Frank Sinatra contestant in town. His name is Michael Buble, and he's been selling records like crazy. His self-titled album is nearing 3 million in sales -- most of them overseas, which is why he's now focusing on the US market -- and he deserves credit for bringing a new sense of fun to the Rat Pack-era sound.
Buble (pronounced "boo-blay") may sound like a French name, but he's actually of Italian descent and grew up in Vancouver. His dad was a fisherman, his grandfather a plumber who shared his love of all things Sinatra and helped wire his grandson into the Great American Songbook. At a nearly sold-out Berklee Performance Center on Thursday, Buble was effusive in his praise of America ("You guys gave the greatest gift to the arts -- jazz," he said) and backed up his disciple role with trenchant versions of the Sinatra-identified "Come Fly With Me" and standards aligned with the likes of Peggy Lee (a dynamite "Fever"), Bobby Darin, and Burt Bacharach.
Adding to the fun was Buble's post-Rat Pack journey into later standards, such as Van Morrison's "Moondance," George Michael's "Kissing a Fool," Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" (done tongue-in-cheek, naturally), and Queen's "Crazy Little Thing Called Love," with a swing beat propelled by Buble's backing octet (including a four-piece horn section featuring Berklee-trained musicians Justin Ray and Nick Vaganos).
Buble can sing -- his earnestly expressive voice underscored how much he loves this material -- though he was sometimes cheesy in his stage banter. A handsome man in his late 20s, he openly flirted with the mostly female crowd, and when he dedicated a song to "my future ex-wives," one woman shouted, "Let me be first!" But then he laughed with her, a friendly gesture devoid of arrogance that made you like him even more.
Opener Frank DelPizzo warmed up the audience with some snappy stand-up comedy that ranged from new twists on dog-and-cat jokes to fresh takes on marriage and winning the lottery. Funny stuff.
With Frank DelPizzo
At: the Berklee Performance Center,