Nat Cole, Vocals
Ralph Carmichael, Arranger
Deep in romantic bliss, this languidly romantic set of ballads has a freshness and atmosphere unique to it. Recalling Gordon Jenkin's settings at times (particularly the soaring Illusion), Carmichael also integrates Nelson Riddle's resourceful, somewhat exotic touch of Wild Is Love, all to fine effect. Although relatively obscure, it is a beautiful set all the same.
By 1960 the odds of finding a mass audience for even the best of classic pop was becoming increasingly unreliable. Having been mined for a few decades by most of its greatest artists, classic pop was being increasingly written off as creatively exhausted, irrelevant and, well, "mature" product to be produced conservatively for a "mature" audience. It seems to me that this perception owes more to a waning of mass audience (and commercial) interest than creative matters. Rock'n'Roll had risen several years prior and its effects were ever more pervasive, in tandem with a rise of Folk and an urbanization of Country with the "Nashville Sound" that brought it closer to Country Classic Pop than Country and Western (this latter point would become directly relevant to Nat's music in short order). Fine album as it is, its sales were relatively paltry.
In light of the above, it's worth noting that you can differentiate the tracks from this album from any other (by Nat or anyone else) by the "sound" of the music, both in terms of orchestration and vocals. Subtle distinctions, absolutely. None the less its distinctiveness serves to show that traditional "classic pop" orchestra with vocals balladry was still being explored and developed in the hands of Nat and company. Not even by fusion with different styles, but within the core traditional context. I haven't seen much made of the point, but I think it deserves some appreciation in that respect, beyond its own quality.
An almost languid, sparely articulated lushness pervades much of the character of the arrangements, while in perfect compliment to that feel, Nat works some of his most protracted (and challenging) phrasing to date. The first session, in the intro of I Remember You, A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square and Poinciana in particular, enjoys something of an exotic air, which perhaps helped guide them to the overall character of the album. Illusion, with its almost Gordon Jenkins-esque string voicings, may have been one of his hit ballads if only this were five years earlier; but Nat's vocal wouldn't likely have had the grandeur it has here. As if to highlight the validity of his varied voicing, Nat and company tackle an old hit of his, Funny (Not Much) and end up serving a remake that's different yet at least equal to the earlier hit version. A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square is a great ballad to get lost in, and I love the evocative arrangement of Poinciana. Both had been done (well) many times before, but never like this. Lights Out serves as a wistful, affectionate finale for the album.
Finally I'd like to point out that Poinciana received some extra production attention, remarkable for an album track at the time, which is not present in all re-releases. The chorus "bookends" the song (an unusual enough structure then) with Nat singing in very long phrases. It begins with Nat's vocal track only in (stereo) reverb (via a deftly engineered, superb show for Capitol's echo chambers; his voice still "rings" just right). Gradually the echo Nat is faded down and Nat's direct vocal track faded in before the chorus is over. The reverse is done for the end chorus so Nat "fades to echo." This effect was done in the process of mixing the 3-track session tape to 2-track stereo, so it is present in releases that use the original 2-track stereo mix, including the original LPs and the EMI UK 2-fer CD release. Subsequent releases (remixing from the 3-tracks) haven't bothered to replicate the effect, so that Nat is up front with a constant level of reverb on the Bear Family CD set through the whole song, or dry through the whole song on the Capitol Masters and Spotlight On CDs. So we have an unusual case where the original stereo mixdown may be preferred. Since many listeners may not have and/or be aware of the original mix I thought I'd mention it here.