Natalie Cole Natalie Cole en Espanol/Verve
I’m probably going to get a lot of flak for this, but I was never a huge fan of Natalie Cole’s Grammy-winning album “Unforgettable: With Love.”
For a singer who had carved out her own niche in the R&B world, going back and covering a bunch of old songs by her father was, to me at least, a step backward creatively.
Obviously, I was in the minority in that regard, because that album has sold millions and marked a comeback for the daughter of Nat King Cole.
While Natalie is still reaching back and using both her father’s work and voice, it seems that she’s at least gone back to charting her own music career.
Her latest, “Natalie Cole en Espanol,” is, as one might deduce from the title, an album of songs sung in Spanish.
While the cheese factor often approaches critical mass here, at the same time there is something charming about the way Cole performs songs such as “Frenesi,” “Quizas, Quizas, Quizas” and “Oye Como Va.”
Cole eases into the Latin-flavored music on the album much more readily than one might expect, and she has several guests to help her out, including Andrea Bocelli (“Besame Mucho”), Arthur Hanlon (“Oye Como Va”), Chris Botti (“Yo lo Amo”) and Juan Luis Guerro (“Bachata Rosa”).
For those who dug Cole’s tribute to her late father, you’ll be happy to know that she does indeed sing a duet with him via the miracle of studio magic. “Acercate Mas” is nice enough, but hearing Cole sing along with her father, who has been gone for nearly half a century, kind of creeps me out.
Still, for fans of easy-listening with a Latin flair, you could do worse than this album.
Key Tracks: “Frenesi,” “Besame Mucho,” “Quizas, Quizas, Quizas”
Mavis Staples One True Vine/ANTI
There are a handful of live musical experiences that have qualified as near-religious experiences for me.
Hearing Mavis Staples sing her R&B classic “I’ll Take You There” on a Sunday morning at Bonnaroo a few years back definitely ranks near the top of that list.
Staples is one of those timeless performers, one that crosses racial and artistic divides simply because what she does is musical artistry in its purest form.
Staples has done everything from open for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers to being produced by Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy.
On her latest album, “One True Vine,” Staples has once again delivered a collection of music that has an understated vibe that belies its emotional power.
Working again with Tweedy, who produced Staples’ last album, 2010’s “You Are Not Alone,” the new album has a darker, more Americana vibe that is accented with strains of gospel.
The material is eclectic, and yet all fits together nicely.
Listen to “Jesus Wept,” written by Tweedy, and marvel at the subtle way Staples conveys the song’s emotional punch.
Also just as genius is her reinterpretation of Funkadelic’s “Can You Get to That,” taking from its funk origins to a downright folky recording.
Other standout tracks include a cover of Nick Lowe’s “Far Celestial Shore” and a version of The Staple Singers’ “I Like the Things About Me” that is sure to get you grooving.
Kudos to Tweedy and Staples for forming one of music’s more unlikely yet most fruitful relationships.
Key Tracks: “Can You Get to That,” “Jesus Wept,” “I Like the Things About Me”
Delbert McClinton & Glen Clark Blind, Crippled & Crazy/New West
Fans of good roots and honky-tonk R&B music will no doubt recognize the names Delbert McClinton and Glen Clark, but how many of those fans under the age of 40 know that the two artists started their careers as a duo?
Four decades ago, the two songwriters released a couple of albums of duets and then embarked on their respective solo careers.
Now, McClinton and Clark have once again joined forces, and it’s immediately apparent that 40 years apart has not affected the two performers in the least.
For fans of McClinton’s laid-back Texas boogie-woogie style, it’s business as usual here, just with the added attraction of Clark’s vocals and songwriting skills.
Clark, who might not be as well known as McClinton, is a superb songwriter and performer, and has written songs for the likes of Bonnie Raitt, Etta James and Kris Kristofferson.
If you love McClinton classics such as “B-Movie Boxcar Blues” and “Giving It Up for Your Love,” then you’re going to have a blast listening to this album.
Standout tracks include “Whoever Said it Was Easy,” “Oughta Know” and “Peace In The Valley.”
Particularly good is “Somebody to Love You,” which represents everything great about both artists all rolled into one great song.
If McClinton and Clark’s collaborative efforts are this good this consistently, then here’s hoping the duo doesn’t wait another 40 years to record another album.
Key Tracks: “Whoever Said it Was Easy,” “Oughta Know,” “Somebody to Love You”
By Devin Grant