One of the more outstanding of mail-order firm Collectors' Choice Music's series of two-fer CD reissues of Nat King Cole LPs, Love Is the Thing/Where Did Everyone Go? combines the contents of two of the four LPs Cole recorded with arranger/conductor Gordon Jenkins. The first, Love Is the Thing, came in December 1956 and was released in March 1957, after which it went on to top the Billboard chart for eight weeks and, eventually, sell over a million copies. It was also one of Cole's best albums. He and Jenkins chose 12 love songs, including several standards dating back to the '20s, such as Hoagy Carmichael's "Stardust" and Fats Waller's "Ain't Misbehavin'." They borrowed songs associated with female stars Doris Day ("When I Fall in Love"), Peggy Lee ("Where Can I Go Without You?"), and Ethel Waters ("Love Is the Thing"), meanwhile showing particular interest in the melodies of soundtrack composer Victor Young ("When I Fall in Love," "Where Can I Go Without You?," "Love Letters"). Those were particularly felicitous associations, because Jenkins' inventive, unhurried string charts were suggestive of soundtrack music, and Cole's restrained vocal approach, with its careful articulation and calm phrasing, made for a more considered performance than the real feeling in the lyrics. Together, Cole and Jenkins created a highly stylized romantic effect not unlike that found in Hollywood movies of the period. After doing two more albums in 1958, The Very Thought of You (more love songs) and Everytime I Feel the Spirit (spirituals), Cole and Jenkins got back together one last time in August 1962 for Where Did Everyone Go? (released in May 1963). This time, the selections were "songs of love and loneliness," as a sleeve note put it; the LP was Cole's version of the kind of saloon-song concept album Frank Sinatra had made with Jenkins (e.g., No One Cares). Once again, songs were borrowed from female singers, this time Lee ("When the World Was Young"), Waters ("Am I Blue?"), and Mabel Mercer ("The End of a Love Affair"). And, even more than before, the arranger/conductor and the singer deliberately worked against the prevailing romantic emotions, in this case negative ones. They might choose a saloon song like "Where Did Everyone Go?," but Cole never sounded angry, or like he was drowning his sorrows in booze, as Sinatra could on similar material. In fact, he made a point of singing the introductory verse, which established that the singer was actually repeating what he had heard some other lonely drinker say, not his own story. And Jenkins continued to support the singer's framing of the story with lovely string parts that kept suggesting the feelings involved, but never going overboard. Both performers thus used their talents to glamorize and objectify the emotions the songs meant to represent, turning them into art.
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann