Thursday, 26 October 2017

Gregory Porter - Nat King Cole & Me, album review

Questions Answered

One would reasonably ask a couple of questions about this album: first, is it an excellent album; and second, is it a Christmas album?

The answer to both is probably yes, certainly to the first. That Porter is the only vocalist who could re-present Cole is a given, and on these mainly covers his voice is distinctly his own – which is far less the platitude than it sounds – and yet it conveys the beauty and precision of Cole too. You’ll have to unravel for yourself any uncertainties/contradictions you feel are in those few assertions.

It is a lush delivery. Lush in the orchestrations from the London Studio Orchestra. Second track Smile sets the opening orchestral scene with beautiful horns carrying the melodic line for the strings to then ride in on an oceanic sweep of a musical wave – to introduce Porter’s perfect vocal and continue to carry its run to the shore, surges and crests and white horses: well, you get the metaphoric rest. Third Nature Boy is almost a building tsunami of strings and horns and all the instrumental rest – no metaphor here – swelling with sound, though Porter can sing dominantly above, never breaking into volume for need but asserting a natural strength.

There are numbers less ‘hit parade’ than these openers, including the first, a wonderful Mona Lisa, like fifth Quizas, Quizas, Quizas and sixth Miss Otis Regrets. Seventh Pick Yourself Up is jauntily orchestrated to reflect its light entertainment, and tenth Ballerina is similarly jazz-lite though very pleasantly so, the trilling flute adding humour to the relief.

At nearly eight minutes long, eighth, Porter’s own When Love Was King, fills more than its space of time, and he can expand his vocal range with exquisite tone as well as timing, occupying more of the overall sound as the orchestration seems less obtrusive. The emotion in the lyrics and his singing – the hungry children – reminding of Porter more than Cole [I guess obviously] and thus for me is the balance one is wanting and getting in the whole album. A softly played bass line reminds more of jazz as well. This is a gorgeous, dramatic song. The Lonely One follows and these two together form a silky core.

When it starts, thirteenth Sweet Lorraine sounds in many ways the most signature of Cole [more so than Mona Lisa] and continues so though both artists are clearly ‘heard’. Next, For All We Know, is slowed to such serenity, Porter to the fore and sweeping strings allowed to swathe when he raises his voice, and also lowers at one point in a great cascade.

The closing track, The Christmas Song, provides a finite answer to our second question. I don’t mind. I have bought the vinyl album as an early present for myself, celebrating Porter and Cole, and whoever else wants to join in the musical festivities should do so whenever and for whatever roasting and nipping they want.

This is an excellent album.

Read all my reviews of Gregory Porter, from first album Water to a live gig at Bristol, here.

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