When I was a child, listening to standards was probably the last thing I wanted to do. My mother would often play Sinatra or Nat King Cole records, and the soft melodies and lyrics I couldn’t comprehend went right over my head. Obviously, my taste in music has diversified since I was five, and I’ve learned that I actually have quite a penchant for jazz standards.
One album that I rediscovered from my childhood is Natalie Cole’s disc of standards, Unforgettable, With Love (released in 1991). The album, which acts as a tribute to Cole’s legendary father, was often played in my home when I was younger, though I never truly appreciated the beauty of it.
The disc proved to be Cole’s most successful (winning her five Grammy awards), despite the fact that she had been singing professionally since 1975. The album, which is comprised of selections of all of the late Cole’s major hits in the 50’s and some of his lesser known gems, is done perfectly. Cole recreates each song, bringing her own distinctive voice and beautiful rendition to all of the classic tracks.
The album begins with The Very Thought Of You, which is presented as a sultry ballad. Cole’s voice is extremely pleasant to listen to; her hushed tone and strong vocals sound wonderful in every song.Paper Moon opens with a quiet string intro before Cole begins singing a slow ballad. The song kicks up after the first verse and morphs into a swing track with a full orchestra. Horns and bass (Ray Brown) add to the fun of the song, and it’s hard to listen to the track without wanting to get up and dance.
Route 66 follows and continues with the upbeat tempo of it’s predecessor. I’m not a fan of this actual song- I think the fact that I’ve heard so many renditions of it has bored me. However, Cole’s version is lively and fun, and both the trumpet and piano (Chuck Findley and Joe Sample, respectively) sound great paired with her vocals. Cole sings L-O-V-E with a child-like charm; her voice is small and cutesy as she sings her way through the cheerful melody and well-known lyrics (“L is for the way you look at me/O is for the only one I see/V is very, very extraordinary/E is even more than anyone that you adore”).
Straighten Up And Fly Right was probably the only song on the album that I liked when I was a child, and it was more than likely because of the upbeat, jazzy sound and cartoonish lyrics (“The buzzard told the monkey you are chokin me/Release your hold and I will set you free/The monkey looked the buzzard right dead in the eye/And said ‘Your story’s so touching but it sounds like a lie’/Straighten up and fly right, straighten up and stay right…”). Even now, I’m still a fan of this song. Cole handles the classic piece expertly; she delivers the lines with the finesse of a seasoned jazz veteran, and the musical interlude is exquisite. Avalon starts with a set of bouncy horns and leads into a fun and fast-paced track. Cole works her way up to a lovely note at the end of the song, which provides a stunning finale.
Don’t Get Around Much Anymore is a mid-tempo track, which features Cole performing a slick scat towards the end. Almost Like Being In Love returns the album to the swing sound, with more big band orchestration and lighthearted lyrics (“There’s a smile on my face/For the whole human race/Why, it’s almost like being in love”), while Thou Swell keeps the tempo up with more gorgeous sax (David “Fathead” Newman”), and plenty of lovely vocals from Cole.
However, the album has it’s fair share of ballads. Mona Lisa begins quietly, with the Spanish guitar and violin, before fading into Cole’s soft vocals. The track is stripped down to vocals and stings, and gives off a beautifully romantic vibe. Smile is a song that I’m attached to for sentimental reasons (no pun intended), and Cole definitely does the song justice. The track is presented without frills and stripped of almost all production, save Cole’s vocals, piano and a few strings, which makes for a lovely rendition. A Medley: For Sentimental Reasons, Tenderly, Autumn Leaves, is also extremely well done- Cole’s interpretation is perfect for the trio of romantic songs that lasts over seven minutes long.
Darling, Je Vous Aime Beaucoup continues the amour (sorry, I couldn’t help it!) with the song sung mostly in English, with a bit of French thrown in. The title means “Darling, I love you a lot” and Cole sings other French phrases in the song (“Je ne sais pas” which means “I don’t know”, “Tojours” which means “always” and “Tres tres fort” or “Very very strong”) before singing the line, “Wish my French were good enough/I’d tell you so much more”. Our Love Is Here To Stay is another elegant ballad that provides the perfect background music for a slow dance or a romantic night in.
While every song on the album proves to be a treat, my favorites are Nature Boy and Non Dimenticar. The first of the two is easily one of my favorite songs, period. As I’ve mentioned in my recent review of the Moulin Rouge! soundtrack, I have five different versions of this song on my iPod, and Cole’s is one of my favorite renditions. The song begins with what sounds like a piccolo or another woodwind, before fading into the haunting melody and Cole’s vocals. She sings the song slowly as to put more emphasis on the powerful lyrics (“The greatest thing/You will ever learn/Is just to love/And be loved/In return”). I absolutely love Cole’s vocals in the song; she sings with passion and emotion, but in such a way that it’s calming to listen to and not the least bit overpowering. Non Dimenticar is a favorite because of the horn section and once again, Cole’s expert vocals. Lyrically the song is much lighter fare in comparison to my other favorite (“Non dimenticar means don’t forget you are my darling/Don’t forget to be/All you mean to me/Non dimenticar my love is like a star, my darling/Shining bright and clear/Just because you’re here”), but is a great song all the same.
The album comes to a close with Unforgettable, which is probably the most noted single from the disc. By splicing a recording of Nat Cole’s vocals into the track, Natalie Cole was able to sing the song as a duet with her father. The result is a truly gorgeous and moving song. Their voices blend perfectly together and it’s touching to hear Cole sing with her father on a record; something that I’m sure she (or the rest of the world) never thought would be possible.
Unforgettable, With Love is an amazing album. The collection of Nat King Cole’s standards is wonderfully complied with superb production (Andre Fischer, Tommy LiPuma, David Foster). More importantly, Natalie Cole proves herself as a viable artist, tackling jazz, swing, big band, love ballads, and standards all in one flawless effort. Though I didn’t realize it as a child, this album is an amazing piece of work, and I’m sure I’ll be listening to it for several more years to come.
1. The Very Thought Of You
2. Paper Moon
3. Route 66
4. Mona Lisa
6. This Can’t Be Love
8. Lush Life
9. That Sunday That Summer
10. Orange Colored Sky
11. A Medley Of: For Sentimental Reasons / Tenderly / Autumn Leaves
12. Straighten Up And Fly Right
14. Don’t Get Around Much Anymore
15. Too Young
16. Nature Boy
17. Darling, Je Vous Aime Beaucoup
18. Almost Like Being In Love
19. Thou Swell
20. Non Dimenticar
21. Our Love Is Here To Stay