Nat King Cole was truly an icon during the late ’50s and ’60s. He was a true triple threat way before it was seen as something special or significant. Cole was a star singer, a Jazz pianist and he appeared in film and on television, In fact with the debut of, The Nat King Cole Show in 1956 he was the first African-American to host a television program. His music career and many hits helped to build Capitol Records. With so much important history and depth behind him, one first wondered if Cole would be rolling around in his grave once he heard Nat King Cole classics on some Hip Hop smoothed out on the R&B tip with a Pop/Jazz feel appeal to it.
“Straighten Up and Fly Right” was originally released in 1943 and was Cole‘s first real mainstream vocal hit. Now in 2009 the will.i.am-produced [click to read] version featuring vocals by Natalie Cole allow father and daughter to once again mesh vocally as they did with the groundbreaking 1991 duet and remake of the classic single “Unforgettable.” The Los Angeles artist doesn’t stray to far from perfection, as he kept the essence of the original track, but amidst the playful back and forth vocals comes spiced up and updated drums along with crisp enhanced piano keys.
The song, “Lush Life” is produced by Cee-Lo Green [click to read] with bounding energized funky drums over laid with hypnotizing violins and lush highs. Nat King Cole vocals are strategically added to the mix and laid skillfully coating the arrangement like syrup poured over pancakes. The joint is unexpectedly slick and captivating with an almost indescribable chemistry.
The album takes a trip to the Islands with “Brazilian Love Song” featuring Bebel Gilberto. It’s a relaxing and seductive intro into romance as sexy vocals serenade you in Spanish before Nat Cole‘s smooth vocals seal the deal. This joint is on some smooth Hip-Hop meets Santanna tip. With “El Choclo” Cole flaunts his balladeer skills via full Spanish vocals over a choppy merengue inducing track. Cole recorded entire albums sung in Spanish and Portuguese in the late ’50s and early ’60s so this bilingual jaunt is in no way out of place. The Island party continues with, “Calypso Blues” produced by and featuring Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley and Stephen Marley. The interactive entwining of Marley vocals and Cole vocals along with the African drums make this a standout track because of its flawless cohesion.
The cohesiveness continues with,”Walkin’ My Baby Back Home,” skillfully produced by The Roots [click to read]. It displays their stellar Jazz chops and musicianship while highlighting and accentuating Cole‘s vocals first and then right at the end they shift into the boom-bap version as Black Thought exercises his right to walk his baby back home. There were no total misses in my opinion.
Initially I found the drums utilized to accentuate certain words a bit hokey in the song, “Day in Day Out,” but soon the smoothness of the Cut Chemist [click to read] production and the scratching and cutting behind the smooth and assured vocals of Nat King Cole as well as his vocals being cut and transformed without loosing his slick and skilled cadence and phrasing excelled above my concerns. “Pick-Up” produced by Just Blaze wrestled with the possibility of not focusing on Nat King Cole, but close to the count of three it managed to break the hold and pull out the victory.
As a true fan of Nat King Cole‘s library of classics, my ear listening to this album was probably more astute and very different to the ear of a virgin to Cole‘s classics. With the majority of this album at first listen I was a little unsure, but in the end, I was pleasantly surprised. The producers had to be inventive, innovative, creative and even out of the box, but the smartest thing that they had to do was to make sure that the star of the track always remained the vocals of Nat King Cole.