DMI Records, 2008
REVIEW BY: Michael Ehret
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 10/14/2008
Forget the cheesy-beyond-belief title of Natalie Cole’s latest collection of what the marketing people are now calling “standards” and what most people just refer to as “darn fine songs.”
Forget the sepia-toned photo of Cole on the front that makes her look like she’s back in the substance abuse days of her youth.
Forget, even, the third -- yes third -- duet from beyond the grave with her father, Nat “King” Cole.
Since Unforgettable: With Love resurrected her career in 1991, Cole has been on an amazing trajectory, releasing seven strong albums, including two Christmas discs. All of them, with the possible exception of 2006’s Leavin’, have been collections of standards for the most part. This new release is hardly the “return to form” the record label is heralding it as. One can’t return if one never left.
Personally, I love the recordings Cole made in the late ‘70s. “Our Love” remains my favorite Natalie Cole song of all time. Yet as her voice and personality has matured, Cole’s artistry has improved. She’s learned to do more than sing. She’s learned what her father seemed to know naturally -- how to inhabit a song.
So don’t hold the marketing of her new album against her; I’m trying not to. Still Unforgettable still has Cole’s dynamic voice and personality to recommend it.
Sure, the duet with Dad is nice -- how could it not be? But that’s just the bait. The “money” of the album starts to show up in the very next song, Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer’s “Come Rain Or Come Shine,” at about into the song when Cole puts on her Ella and starts to scat.
Things take a decided jazz turn on “Coffee Time,” previously recorded by, of all people, talk show host Mike Douglas. Cole hits just the right tone with the quirky little number, making it hers.
From there things only get (mostly) better. Cole includes a cover of “Why Don’t You Do Right?” introduced to this generation by cartoon bombshell Jessica Rabbit in the hit movie “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” from 1988. If you can get the image of redheaded Jessica out of your mind, Cole brings a new kind of sultry confidence to the tune.
Other highlights include Johnny Burke and James Van Heusen’s “But Beautiful,” also recently recorded by the inimitable Boz Scaggs, that Cole nails; Cole Porter’s “It’s All Right With Me;” and Mercer’s “Something’s Gotta Give,” which Cole has tons of fun with.
I noted earlier that things (mostly) got better. Here’s two tunes to make you thankful for programmable CD players and MP3 players: Cole’s totally pedestrian cover of “Here’s That Rainy Day” and the cloyingly sweet “Lollipops And Roses.”