Nat King Cole

Welcome to the Club/Tell Me All About Yourself

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This entry in mail-order firm Collectors' Choice Music's series of Nat King Cole reissues is a two-fer CD combining two albums recorded in 1958, both of them featuring big-band accompaniment (i.e., horns and a rhythm section, but no strings), and both overseen by arranger/conductor Dave Cavanaugh. The unannounced star of the first one, Welcome to the Club (tracks one-eleven) is the Count Basie Orchestra, albeit performing minus Basie himself for contractual reasons. (Gerald Wiggins substitutes at the piano.) While the band plays with its usual bravura, the date turns out to be less impressive than might have been hoped, less impressive, in fact, than similar pairings with Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra. Apparently to emphasize the equal, if not superior, status of the ensemble, Cole is shunted off to the left channel on most of the stereo mixes. That makes for an odd sound much of the time. But even when his vocals are at the center, he doesn't really engage with the band. Any Basie fan is bound to compare Cole with Jimmy Rushing and Joe Williams, and he just doesn't have their sense of blues shouting, which is what it takes to keep up with those blaring horns. The song selection, a mixture of mediocrities and odd choices of standards (Duke Ellington's "Mood Indigo"? Al Jolson's "Avalon"?), doesn't help. ("Madrid," a song recorded for but left off of Welcome to the Club that borrows part of its melody from Bizet's Carmen, is added on as track twelve.) There are only a couple of semi-standards ("Until the Real Thing Comes Along," "Crazy She Calls Me") among the otherwise forgettable material that makes up Tell Me All About Yourself (tracks 13-24), but Cavanaugh backs off the unnamed studio musicians to place the focus back on Cole, to better effect. If a swing fan would have guessed the first half of the CD featured the Basie band, that same fan might suspect the Glenn Miller ghost orchestra was responsible for the second half. That actually suits Cole better, and he sounds more comfortable, but the lack of really first-rate songwriting keeps Tell Me All About Yourself from being fully satisfying.

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