Picks and Pans Review: Legendary Singers

Nat King Cole

Warm, sly, insinuating—Nat Cole’s voice and singing style were as sexy as they come, without sacrificing musicality. He really had two careers, though, as this two-LP set demonstrates. (It is the first of a new “Legendary Singers” series that will later offer sets by Frank Sinatra, Lena Horne, Perry Como, Judy Garland, Jo Stafford, Bing Crosby, Peggy Lee, Rosemary Clooney, Tony Bennett and Sarah Vaughan.) Cole’s first career was with his trio during the ’40s. Cole played a deliciously swinging piano, and his singing was loose and witty. (His sidemen at various times included saxophonist Lester Young, bassist Red Callender and drummer Buddy Rich.) There are only four trio tracks in this set, including the classics (Get Your Kicks on) Route 66, Straighten Up and Fly Right and Sweet Lorraine. (Gee Baby Ain’t I Good to You and Frim Fram Sauce, among many other tunes, would have been nice to include.) The rest of the album consists of the mainstream stuff that Cole did after he became a pop star. Those tracks range from the pleasant Walkin’ My Baby Back Home to the execrable Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy-Days of Summer and Ramblin’ Rose. Cole’s singing was always first class, but seemed toned down considerably in the sensuality department, becoming a kind of black Perry Como. Some of these arrangements, laden with strings, sound incredibly mushy now; others are just silly. As a summary of Cole’s career, this album is representative, and the recording fidelity is excellent. But for sheer musical enjoyment, the Capitol series of reissues of the Cole trio’s performances is far livelier. (Time-Life Music, 800-621-8200)

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