Pop/Rock/World CD Reviews

Natalie Cole – Leavin’

Cover tunes of artists both in R&B and other genres

Published on December 26, 2006

Natalie Cole – Leavin’
Natalie Cole – Leavin’ – Verve B0006223-02, 52:50 ***: 

This disc is an interesting collection with an odd choice of cover tunes by artists both in and out of Cole’s genre.  Cole’s been in the biz for quite a while—winning a Grammy for Best New Artist and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance in 1975.  A decade later she worked with a variety of labels and producers and recorded more hit songs.  A major turn in Cole’s career occurred with the release of Unforgettable: With Love—a  No. 1 record that won Album Of The Year and Best Traditional Pop Vocal Performance.  This led the artist into the jazz arena and she won some more awards in the 90s.  And so that brings us to this record and another departure by Cole into unfamiliar territory—contemporary cover songs.  Although an artist of the stature of Cole can clearly dictate what material will be on their record, the record is definitely hit and miss.

There’s a popular joke/putdown that goes something like this:  Someone is singing a song they like and botching it.  Someone nearby says, “Hey, who sings that song?”  The singer answers, “It’s [the artist].”  At this point the listener says, “Then let them sing it.”  Unfortunately this was my reaction to many of the songs on this disc with the first song by Fiona Apple being an excellent example.  With Cole doing Neil Young I couldn’t help wondering, “What’s she thinking?”  When the style shifted to hip hop, soul, or R&B Cole fared better.  With track four, what could be a good gospel/spiritual tune, Cole’s voice approaches the range and emotion needed, but just falls short of the kind of power that could really knock this one out of the park.  Track 11 is another example of her inability to push the limits of the material and track 12 has cheesy reverb and lacks the kind of push to reinterpret the material in a successful manner.  Tracks three, six, and nine were some of the better renditions that make the record worth listening to and might be enough of a reason to invest in this recording.

It’s not as if Cole picked a bunch of lemons that have no redeeming value—quite the contrary—the songs are popular, decent quality, and likable.  The mix is eclectic to say the least, and although the material is presented in new and different ways, it fails to transform the majority of the music and justify the trouble.  Different for the sake of different is only that and nothing more. Recording quality is quite good: A-.

SongList:  Criminal [Fiona Apple]; Old Man [Neil Young]; Day Dreaming [Aretha Franklin]; Leavin’ [Shelby Lynne]; The More You Do It (The More I Like It Done to Me) [Marvin Yancy, Chuck Jackson]; Lovin’ Arms [Tom Jans]; Love Letter [Bonnie Hayes]; The Man With the Child In His Eyes [Kate Bush]; 5 Minutes Away [Natalie Cole, Dallas Austin, Marvin Chanz Parkman]; Don’t Say goodnight (It’s Time For Love) [Isley Brothers]; You Gotta Be [Des’ree Weekes, Ashley Ingram]; If I Ever Lose My Faith In You [Sting].

– Brian Bloom

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