Recorded 6/20/58, 8/11&18/58, 11/11&12/58
Nat Cole - Vocals
Nelson Riddle - Arranger
Lee Gillette - Producer
Capitol W-782 (mono)
Capitol SW-782 (stereo)
This album of new songs by the charmed team of Nat and Nelson remains relatively obscure despite its high overall quality; it would seem the top sales strata would seldom again be approached by classic pop by the time of its release. Too bad; the mello, lovely, sometimes romantic, sometimes aching moods and colors were just as exquisite as ever. It's also a great sounding recording. The cover art (which may now remind one of some of the "mid-century" commercial art one might find at Plan59) is fairly in tune with its contents; a scene of the dream of a life of beauty.
Gentle is a keynote for this album; even when it's sad it's a gentle sad. The term straight-forward is also a good descriptor. Perhaps this album was a response (instinctual or deliberate) to the relative bite of the prior two big-band albums and the ardor of the albums with Jenkins, or perhaps it was simply approached in the spirit of a nice new Sings for Two in Love. It's been described as a "non-concept" album and that's true, but there is a cohesiveness to the sound and feel that brings to mind the fact that the word "theme" might describe a good many albums better than "concept," this one included.
The title track To Whom it May Concern has a distillation of a blend of gentility and candor that's uniquely Nat. The pensively melodic music and the circumspect if not selfless advice is exquisitely expressed by Nat's delicate vocal and Nelson's fine arrangement. Among the qualities of the arrangement its use of bass (which is pointed yet doesn't jar the velvety strings, spare vibes and wandering piano) and the optomistic notes of reeds and occasionally humming brass. Incidentally, the song was co-written by Nat.
Love-Wise is a piece of descriptive flattery fit for a Valentines card, but that's not to be glib; it'd be a message anyone might love to either give or recieve. "This contented feeling" is an apt line for the song. All too much, as in many ways (including the instrumental break) it is going through the (rather nice) motions. Speaking of, one probably shouldn't be surprised if a song titled Too Much is a bit much, and the song by that title here is, in as much as it's a bit cloying. None the less, the lyrics "the real thing will last" prompts me to comment that I suspect the folks making this music believed their arts were a thing that would last.
In the Heart of Jane Doe may be of note largely thanks to its ending tag, which is also a fine example of Nat's singular expressiveness, played just as easily and gently as the whole. A Thousand Thoughts of You is one of the tracks most eligeable for pop standard status, but then what would it be without Nat to sing a phrase like "will roam the night and find me" with contrasting sensitivity and authority to set off the overwhelming nature of the sense and his vulnerability at the same time.
A personal favorite of these is You're Bringing Out the Dreamer in Me as I'm happy to relate I've had the breezy and charmed feel so wonderfully present at moments in this song. In a nice park in point of fact - what, you thought that euphorically idyllic '50s utopia of the cover painting was a placement sponsored by a New York Central Park Association? Nah; suits it fine! And it's not a bad place to be, y'know. Anyway, back to the song, the way Nat emphesizes "locked up tight" and so directly says the word "key" finds him unlocking meaning and is another of those details that make his vocals so rich and rewarding.
Perhaps the most easy-going of the whole lot is My Heart's Treasure, of which there's little so say but "enjoy." Perhaps more likely to be remembered, If You Said No elevates stakes to a greater drama, for heaven's sake "all the stars in heaven are trembling above," gracious! Is that person figuratively on that bended knee? You bet. If she still said "no," I just don't want to hear about it.
Moving right along then, another favorite is Can't Help It. Nelson steps up here with a particularly strong and apt arrangement here. The reflective and apprehensive emotion of the song is underpinned by a resiliant swagger in the form of a sunny, breezy day at the park swing punctuated by a fitful and dynamic break, lending impetus to the feeling one "can't help it." With such a sweet arrangement to work with, Nat is particularly energized, expressing the sense of urgency with dynamic timing to suit.
Now for the least favorite. Lovesville is more badly dated and cloying than any other track, the comparative clunker. Furthermore I don't happen to feel it works well on this album, including the arrangement with its more extensive use of vocal group. Fortunately there's a half-way decent melody here and there and Nat's on the scene with the saving grace of an expressive lead vocal. So it's worth the virtual trip even if you didn't buy the t-shirt.
After having recorded and rejected Unfair a couple of years before, another try at the song was finally issued here. A phrase ("to the heart that") delivered with a certain hesitation in the prior attempt is nice and smooth here and the song as a whole probably works better in this package than it might have as a single. To whom this song may concern: he means it, he's more considerate, but he's still thinking of himself...
There's an unease in the air in This Morning it Was Summer. And that proves the right note, as the protoganist finds loss and lonliness changing his world for the worse. This more downbeat ballad segues into a reprise of To Whom it May Concern, which provides a bookend for the album. In narrative terms the theme is tenuous at most, but it works better in emotional terms.
To be sure this album is not his masterpiece, yet it is something of a masterwork. This is something only these talents could do in this way, only there, only then. Maybe it's a big slice of "the rest" under "the best" but it's our loss if we can't appreciate a nice sunny day with nothing to do.
In terms of sonics, it seems to me that this should be among his best sounding records overall. The mono release is the best quality, but while the balances are better and some elements are better captured (particularly the piano) in the mono recording, the wider open stereo field and the emphasis on brass really suits the feel (particularly for Can't Help It). The original 3-tracks probably sound beautiful. The sonics of digital releases to date do not deserve that description, sad to say; in fact, they're pretty lousy. The original stereo releases have an awful lot of reverb and compression. So far it has yet to recieve a release as lovely as the recording. I hope it will; seems it's bringing out the dreamer in me...