Right now, the world is truly Michael Buble's oyster. He's as big as big gets, an old-fashioned multiplatinum pop star at a time when that species is supposedly extinct, crooning old and new tunes from the Great American songbook with ample average-guy charm. Any collaborative fantasy could be his. Sting, the Black-Eyed Peas, Carrie Underwood and pretty much anyone else from the top of the charts are just a phone call away.
But check the credits of Buble's latest album, "Crazy Love" (143/Reprise Records), and you might be surprised.
Instead of big names, the album's principal cameo guests are neo-soul singer Sharon Jones and Buble's fellow Canadian singer/songwriter Ron Sexsmith - lesser-known acts who have benefited tremendously from Buble sharing his spotlight. It's worked out especially well for Jones, whose latest album cracked Billboard's top-20 after she appeared with Buble on "Saturday Night Live" this year.
"For me, it's beautiful to have the power to work with Sharon Jones," Buble says, calling from the Buenos Aires home he shares with fiance Luisana Lopilato. "It's great, even though there are people screaming, 'What about Beyonce? Or do something with Bono!' Nothing against them, they're both great. But I try to choose things because I feel they're right, not easiest or most popular.
"I'm lucky to be able to work with people as talented as that," he adds. "Sharon is just blowing up now, and it's well-deserved. She has incredible vocal chops and a zest for life, a force to be reckoned with. And Ron is gonna be like a fine wine that just gets better. I think he'll be Canada's new Leonard Cohen, someone who is appreciated more and more as time goes on."
Connecting with fans
These are dark times in the record industry. Nothing seems to sell anymore except for Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, the occasional "Glee" soundtrack album ... and Buble. Improbably, he's had enormous success working a niche as a scruffier version of Harry Connick Jr., but with more pop appeal. So "Crazy Love" has "All of Me," "Georgia on My Mind" and other well-worn classics from the canon, as well as Buble's take on the Van Morrison title track and the Eagles' 1979 hit "Heartache Tonight."
"I've always tried to connect with the audience," Buble says. "To be sincere and be myself, a good entertainer with soul. If at the end of the day you give value for people's money, try to do things that move them, that's all you can do. People talk about how the industry is 'dead,' but it's not dead. It's just changing and evolving as people find new ways to put music out there. I feel very fortunate that I'm lucky enough to have a career and play for people. It's been amazing."
His puck collection
Also amazing is Buble's collection of hockey pucks. A hockey fanatic who played right wing in his younger days, Buble now co-owns a junior hockey team in Canada (the Vancouver Giants). And his contract rider calls for "one local team hockey puck" to be in the dressing room for each show he plays. So he'll come away from this weekend's dates in the Tar Heel state with Carolina Hurricanes and Charlotte Checkers pucks to add to his collection.
"It's funny, my house has no plaques or awards or anything like that up," Buble says. "I like to keep my house separate from what I do. But I do have the pucks, all of them, in my office. I put up some jerseys, too."
New album in the works
Once Buble comes off the road and gets the pucks put away, it will be time to turn his attention to another album. He's already writing a bit (he co-wrote two songs on "Crazy Love," including the hit "Haven't Met You Yet") while looking around for songs. Naturally, there is no lack of suggestions from others as to what he should be covering.
"People have certain ideas about who I am," Buble says, sounding a bit weary. "Like they'll suggest I record 'My Way.' No, I'll say. I'm only 34 and I have not lived enough to sing that, and anyway it's too much Frank Sinatra's signature song. Tom Jones is another - 'It's Not Unusual.' And I love Tom Jones, but that's just not for me.
"Choosing repertoire is very important," he concludes. "I have to choose songs I believe in and believe in completely for me. I need to be very sure they move me. If I do that, it works out."