Thirty years ago, Natalie Cole would embark on a fruitful and artistically successful stage in her long and storied career by recording an album of pop standards. Unforgettable… With Love gave Cole a new career: that of a contemporary interpreter of the Great American Songbook. Though she wasn’t the first rock-era pop singer to take on pre-rock pop music, Cole displayed an inherent affinity for the material. Given her pedigree, it’s no surprise that she was a natural when it came to singing jazz pop. Craft Recordings re-releases this seminal album for its 30th anniversary, enticing fans with a couple of newly released tracks.
The re-release of Unforgettable…With Love shines a spotlight on an artist who successfully stretched her talents. A deserved second listen to the album also shows that the record is far more than just a duet between Cole and her late father, the iconic Nat “King” Cole. The electronic pairing of father and daughter almost 30 years after his death on the pop standard “Unforgettable” became a sensation and felt innovative and new (now musical resurrections are commonplace). Natalie Cole’s career up to 1992 was a seeming attempt to remain out of the large shadow her dad’s legacy cast; so, the reunion on the Irving Gordon tune felt like an event.
Listening to the song now, 30 years later, away from the hype, proves just how incredible an artist Natalie Cole was in her own right. Buried at the end of the album, the song still feels stirring and moving. Hearing Nat “King” Cole’s creamy, smoky tones is always a treat. And the younger Cole adopts an expansive, sumptuous delivery, creating a lovely contrast with her father. Particular attention should be paid to the gorgeous instrumentation, which includes superlative work by Mike Lang and legendary jazz pianist Mike Melvoin and appropriately lush and luscious production by superstar producer David Foster. He does a great job of capturing a classy, elegant sound that matches the sophistication of his vocalists.
So, even though the duet isn’t a novelty, it has unfairly swallowed up the rest of the album. It’s a shame because even if Natalie Cole hadn’t recorded the duet with her dad, Unforgettable…With Love would still be a significant artistic statement by a singer who found the confidence to sing the famous songs by her dad. By 1992, Natalie Cole was a well-respected music vet with a string of pop-soul classics and hit albums under her belt. We hear this confidence in her voice on the album. Listen to the dreamy way she introduces “The Very Thought of You”, duetting with a pensive violin. “Mona Lisa” was her dad’s signature tune, but she claims the song as her own with a knowing vocal. And her swinging version of the Duke Ellington classic “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” brims with a joyful ebullience.
What makes Unforgettable…With Love so wonderful is that we get to hear a contemporary pop vocalist successfully engage with the Great American Songbook without suppressing her considerable charms and personality. Though clearly influenced by Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, and her dad, she makes these songs her own. The two additional tracks – “Cottage for Sale” and a novel approach to “At Last” – are very good but highlight a minor quibble with this re-release. It would’ve been great if other treasures were unearthed from the archives or, at the very least if an accompanying disc of live versions of these songs were included (maybe selections from her concerts or award show performances). Two tracks feel a bit slim, and the album deserves more. Still, these are slight issues because Unforgettable…With Love is a fabulous masterpiece.