Natalie Cole

Natalie Live!

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Regrettably, most of the R&B artists who emerged in the '70s never recorded official live albums -- and bootlegs aren't an option in most cases because bootleggers usually stick to rock and pop. Natalie Cole fans, however, were given a pleasant surprise when, in 1978, Capitol provided the double-LP Natalie Live. This excellent release contains the highlights of two concerts: one at the Universal Amphitheater in Universal City, CA, (a Los Angeles suburb) in August 1977, and the other at the Latin Casino in Cherry Hill, NJ, (near Philadelphia) in March 1978. Backed by solid bands, Cole is inspired and passionate on performances of gems from Inseparable ("I Can't Say No," "This Will Be," and the title song) and Natalie ("Sophisticated Lady") as well as Unpredictable ("I've Got Love on My Mind," "Party Lights") and Thankful ("Our Love" and "Lovers"). Cole also surprises us with a few covers that weren't on any of her studio LPs, including a sweaty version of "Cry Baby" and a totally unexpected performance of the Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds." That psychedelic classic might seem like an odd choice for Cole, but the tune actually works quite well for her. Besides, Cole never claimed to be a soul purist -- she never swore off rock or pop, and some of the gems that she performs have jazz overtones (including "Lovers" and "Mr. Melody"). One could nitpick about the absence of the enchanting, Brazilian-flavored "La Costa," which drove quiet storm programmers wild. But all things considered, Natalie Live is an exciting document of the singer's live performances of the late '70s.

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