Natalie Cole

Snowfall on the Sahara

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With Unforgettable, Natalie Cole refashioned herself as a modern interpreter of the classic American songbook. Once that album turned into a blockbuster, she saw no reason to return to contemporary pop or R&B. Over the course of the '90s, she released a series of faithful, sophisticated, traditional pop albums, all to diminishing artistic and commercial returns. With Snowfall on the Sahara, she pulls back from her classic pop routine and she does so with style. She doesn't abandon her role as a torch songstress, but this time she updates it, not only through Phil Ramone's production but through her selection of songs. This time around, the classics are contemporary -- "A Song for You," "Corrina," "Everyday I Have the Blues," "Gotta Serve Somebody" (complete with a new verse, written by Bob Dylan especially for Cole) -- and she also performs some forgotten tunes and newer songs, along with her fine co-written original title track. Ramone pretty much keeps things in a soulful adult contemporary mold, with the occasional unexpected flourish (such as the trip-hop intro to "Corrina") popping up here and there. Even with such clean radio-ready production, Snowfall on the Sahara is hardly a conventional adult contemporary record; it plays like a nightclub revue from a classic pop vocalist, only with modernized arrangements and songs. Such subtle deviations from formula results in a surprisingly satisfying record. By balancing the form of traditional pop with strong material and modernized production, Snowfall on the Sahara illustrates adult pop needs to be neither predictable or devoid of substantive songs.

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