|James Blunt played to a nearly sold-out crowd at the Orpheum, mixing it up with songs from his second album. (Erik Jacobs for the Boston Globe)|
When you bust out of the gate with a song as big and bland as "You're Beautiful," you have two choices: keep feeding the millions of fans in thrall to soft-rock balladry or take a chance and mix it up. James Blunt did the right thing on his second album, "All the Lost Souls," turning his attention away from his sound hole and his tortured soul to find inspiration in the sounds of the '70s and beyond.
He opened his concert at the Orpheum Wednesday with the quirkiest new cut, a chunky, vaudevillian rocker called "Give Me Some Love," and closed it with "1973," a song that owes equally to disco and the Eagles. Those fresh reference points infused the show, and the British crooner's parched falsetto, with life beyond romantic longing.
And while the musical references are all over the map, credibility-wise - you can hear echoes of early Bowie in "One of the Brightest Stars," but also the Bee Gees and Gilbert O'Sullivan - Blunt is clearly reveling in a voice that's sharper and savvier than the simpering troubadour who arrived in 2005.
Of course, quivering sentimentality was in ample supply at this show, much to the delight of a near-capacity crowd packed with swooning soccer moms and a smattering of like-minded lads. Happily, Blunt and his natty-suited band buffed up the stock pleasantries of "Shine On" and the mail-order chords of "Carry You Home" with burly dynamics. There's nothing like an explosive rock coda to light the emotional switchboard.
Blunt hit his passion peak mid-set, when he dismissed his band and performed stripped-down versions of "Goodbye My Lover" (the No. 1 choice at funerals, Blunt noted) and the harrowing war recollection "No Bravery" (Blunt is a former Royal Air Force officer who served in Kosovo). Either he's a talented actor or really, truly torn up inside. Blunt blindsided this listener, for one, with his fierce delivery.
Newcomer Sara Bareilles is a terrific singer and a serviceable songwriter; during her opening set she delivered soulful, engaging renditions of connect-the-dots pop-rockers from her debut, "Little Voice."