Michael Buble

Canadian crooner and heartthrob Michael Buble's Wolf Trap debut Sunday night wasn't merely a sold-out, Vegas-like spectacle set against a towering, platinum-tinted backdrop. Laced with vintage pop standards, it launched what is sure to be a long-running annual franchise at the venue. In other words, Tony Bennett move over.

Of course even Buble is aware that his appeal has its limits. Early on, amid girlish squeals of delight, he thanked the men in the audience who'd prefer to watch a game on TV. Humor is not the least of the singer's charms, and he sounded as if he had a studied a Rat Pack primer on one-liners. For instance, after noting the pop classic "Smile" was composed by Charlie Chaplin, he added, with Dean Martin aplomb, that some people are surprised to discover this because they didn't think Chaplin could talk.

Martin also came to mind when Buble breezed through "Sway" with plenty of help from his horn and rhythm sections. Several brassy arrangements with dramatic modulations served him well during the show, including renditions of "Come Fly With Me" and "The More I See You." However, lulls set in when the focus shifted from finger-snapping verve to country-tinged soul, via a bland cover of the Ray Charles hit "You Don't Know Me," and when Buble performed his routine pop hit "Home." Far more entertaining were his amusing impressions of Josh Groban and Michael Jackson -- something that even sports fans could enjoy.

-- Mike Joyce

Meredith Bragg

Every artist who schedules a CD release show hopes for the scene that materialized at the Black Cat's Backstage Sunday night, where Meredith Bragg had set up a gig: a full house that was both excited and attentively hushed. Bragg and his band, the Terminals, played a show that justified the buzz, crafting a brief but sturdy set of low-key songs that emphasized their leader's fingerpicked acoustic guitar and sharply drawn lyrics.

Bragg, keyboardist Brian Minter and drummer Jon Roth formerly played together in the Northern Virginia quintet Speedwell, but that band's indie-rock edge is nowhere to be found in the introspective, folk-rock ramble of songs like "My Only Enemy." That tune appears on Bragg and the Terminals' debut album, "Vol. 1," which officially hits the streets July 12 and contains other numbers that the quartet -- cellist Elizabeth Olson providing key embellishment -- gently uncoiled. "Seventeen" and "I Won't Let You Down" both contained the kind of bittersweet melodic bite associated with Elliott Smith, while "Work and Winter" was more spry, a quick pinprick that recalled the unjustly forgotten work of Rhode Island's Purple Ivy Shadows. And Bragg can be forgiven the indulgence of a warbly run through R.E.M.'s "The One I Love," because his original songs packed sufficient persuasion on their own.

-- Patrick Foster