Released: May 2014
One of the most recognisable and remarkable voices of the 20th century, swing legend Nat King Cole enjoyed a successful career spanning thirty years. Now, almost half a century since his death, he still lives on in the countless recordings made of his silky tones, thirty-six of which have been compiled to celebrate his career in this collection The Extraordinary. With production value high on the agenda and plenty of previously unheard material and arrangements, this compilation proves that a near unrivalled back catalogue in both quality and quantity means that aurally there is still life in the crooner yet.
Instantly the album is noticeable for its gorgeous production, the smooth resonance of the string section in previously unheard The Magic Window gliding throughout the song, weaving in and out of Cole’s vocals harmoniously. His voice sounds better than ever as he croons some of his most famous lines amongst many other hidden gems, one of the most touching being his gentle singing of “In your smile there’s sunshine” on the sweet ode to his child on Little Fingers. A real blast from the past, his soft yet resonant voice is truly up there with America’s best and with the aid of superb modern production this is more evident than ever.
As the strings and Cole’s voice take centre stage the accompanying instruments continue about their way subtly yet clearly present. The simplicity of the double bass and drums are key to the pace and rhythm of the songs and the often-improvised piano parts are played with natural ease. Whilst the softer tracks are certainly magical moments in themselves it’s the more audacious numbers that take advantage of the big band that really showcase the majesty of Cole’s ability as a performer and musician, the classic L-O-V-E being a particular highlight.
There’s plenty of unreleased material on here to keep collectors happy, but this also works for new listeners, providing a different angle to enter Cole’s world from. Many of his more popular hits are presented on the record with different arrangements, some of which work and others sounding hardly any different to their original recordings. From this it is clear that The Extraordinary is very much for fans already deeply invested in Cole. It isn’t a tough record for new listeners, but such a bulky compilation with so many less obvious hits in there does require a little more than a fleeting interest to become truly immersed in its splendour. However, in a world where sexualisation and profanity in music are rife, where every boundary has been broken, it doesn’t do a lot of harm to take the ears back to a golden age of love and innocuous pleasures, and younger listeners may just be surprised by how refreshing Cole’s music can be.
With Cole sounding on fine form and a more ambitious track list than most compilations would go for, The Extraordinary is ideal for long-term fans of the crooner. The quality of sound gives him a new lease of life, as does the gold mine of previously unreleased material. The shaken up arrangements of some of his tracks could certainly have been left out but within a compilation of over thirty tracks it hardly stands out as a fatal flaw, this being a collection of songs lovingly compiled by and for the fans of one of the most irreplaceable voices of modern times.