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.

Food Music 10

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

David Crosby - Sky Trails, album review

But Here Now

A funked-up jazzy keyboard by James Raymond opens the first track She’s Got to be Somewhere, Crosby’s vocal cascading in its fine melodic line, waiting for the equally fine harmonies to commune: this has the sound of a Steely Dan number from a while ago, a touchstone others have noted in its obvious echo. Well, that’s fine too.

The next is the title track, and it is sublime. That’s way beyond fine. With vocal accompaniment from Becca Stevens, the harmonies are genuinely glorious – the extra move to a wash of more harmony and soprano sax by Steve Tavaglione invokes Crosby from his earliest days and yet also anchores it to this newer jazz ambience. It might well be my track of the year.

Third Sell Me a Diamond is another classic Crosby, the musical narrative that has a message – if this transaction is the key to letting go…makes conflict free sound good to me – the metaphor a mysterious sparkle that refracts the search for freedom, perhaps: desirable but not always easy to find. Greg Leisz on pedal steel and Jeff Pevar on guitar add layers of soft and hard like the metaphor itself.

Before the sweet cover of Joni Mitchell’s Ameila, songs like Before Tomorrow Falls on Love, a co-write with Michael McDonald, and Here It’s Almost Sunset remind of those jazz-inflected songs from Hejira. And of course the actual cover is beautiful, Crosby’s still superb singing and Mitchell’s songwriting conjoined in the now of its recording and the history of their relationship. The album as a whole is a complete representation of this particular symbiosis, the enduring sound of then and now; there and here.

Reviews of Croz and Lighthouse here;  review of CS&N at Bristol, 2013 here.

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Nat King Cole - The Best Of

One True Vocal

I watched Gregory Porter on The Graham Norton Show today - a recording of last night - and he sang Mona Lisa with another guest Jeff Goldblum on piano who actually played a fine just off-beat accompaniment showing an effective, distinctive style, an observation Porter himself made, calling it a 'special' style, I think, that the audience didn't quite grasp as compliment and seemed to think was a humorous remark.

I have subsequently ordered the double-vinyl copy of Porter's imminent release Nat King Cole & Me album. I would have anyway as a cd, but hadn't realised it was out as a vinyl lp. Porter is probably one of the only contemporary artists who can sing Cole with the quality and feel it deserves. When interviewed on the couch, Porter recalled how as a 6 year old he made a tape recording of himself singing and played it for his mother. She told him it sounded like Nat King Cole who he went on to follow and love, adding, convincingly and touchingly, how Cole was a role-model for Porter living in a fatherless home.

So at this very moment I am listening to the master himself, an album I have had since a teenager, and one I played and listened to with my mom whose favourite song was Ramblin' Rose, so that will always be mine as well. The song just on is Those Lazy Hazy Days of Summer and its lyrics of Just fill your basket full of sandwiches and weenies reminding of the innocent nonsense of some songs at that time, this the naff hit on the album, but who cares.

I have other Cole albums, again bought as a teenager, and I think I'll spin them on the turntable tomorrow as well. RR is about to play, so I'm going to stop typing and recall my own happy days with Cole and my mother, not at 6 and probably more about 14/15.