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But first of all, please.

June 9, 2009

Hello again, all.

Hope your weekends (and Mondays) were lovely, and welcome back to the working week. If you’ve got nothing else going on today (and why should you? It’s Tuesday after all), why don’t you swing by your local record merchant and pick up Rhett Miller’s self titled new album? I’ve avoided listening to any of it yet, in leaked or crappy MySpace stream form, because it’s so rare these days for me to find an album I’m actually waiting for like I used to when I was 17. That said, I can’t tell you whether it’s good or crap yet, but I have a lot of faith in that Rhett fellow. I’m quite sure he won’t upset me too deeply. There’s something very holy about buying a record on its day of release, you know. You should experience it. And do your small part to help keep record stores open.

On an unrelated note (or maybe related inasmuch as it’s about music… and me), thank you to everyone who tuned into the Heavy Petting Zoo on Saturday. Grandma Cyd and I were watching online listener counts, and while I expected a few more (ahem, ahem, dear reader), it was nice to know our musings (and the loads of good tunes) weren’t going entirely unappreciated in the ether.

Of course, in the midst of some music block (likely the one when Nat King Cole’s rendition of “That’s All” was played), the good Grandma chastised me for not featuring enough Nat on my blog. I made an on air promise to do so this week.

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It’s a strange thing — I’ve never had anything against Nat, in fact, I’ve always loved a few of his tunes, but for whatever reason I’ve never been able to get into him the way I’ve been able to get into other crooners or big vocal stars of the era (Sinatra, Martin, Darin, etc.).

The only reason I can muster is that I always kind of perceived Nat to be more of a balladeer, laying his voice on top of strings and lush arrangements more often than against jazzy or swinging backing tracks.

That’s a lot of BS, I know — “This Can’t Be Love,” “Almost Like Being in Love,” tons of tracks prove he had the capacity to swing just as nicely as any of his contemporaries. What’s more, his ability on the keys put his musicianship pretty far beyond most of those contemporaries. And without Nat, you know, how far would Billy Preston have gone in life? Food for thought.

But if you think of Nat, your mind first goes to things like “Unforgettable” and “Mona Lisa,” which are both classics, but also the kind of stuff that bored me to pieces when I used to visit my Great Uncle Gene’s house in my youth. With a few more years (and puberty) behind me, I’m able to better appreciate the songs’ romantic effects on the female of the species, but I’d still argue his vocal-less take on “Penthouse Serenade” is miles sexier than either of the two aforementioned tracks.

So, then, I guess the goal is to highlight the work he did outside those songs and pretty much everyone’s favorite Christmas album.

Plenty to choose from, but I always go back to “Let There Be Love” from his 1962 album, Nat King Cole Sings/George Shearing Plays. Nat handed over the 88 keys to Shearing (who worked with everyone didn’t he? Great album with Peggy Lee, too…), and just handled vocal duties. There’s some great stuff on the album, but this is far and away the best cut. It’s made a few of the Nat King Cole retrospective “best of” packages, but I still feel like it gets lost when its put next to “Unforgettable” and “Mona Lisa.” This is way more romantic. I mean think about it — he goes through a whole list of what the world needs: love, oysters, chili con carne, someone to speak up when he sneezes, etc. But first and foremost, it’s, “Let there be you. Let there be me.”

Nat King Cole – Let There Be Love

By the way, my only gripe with the track is his pronunciation of “chili con carne.” I mean, the guy did more than a few Spanish speaking albums. Chili with a carnie, then? Might actually be an interesting experience.

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