Natalie Cole – Leavin’

Natalie ColeNatalie Cole
(Verve – 2006)
by Carmen Miller

My girl is back! Natalie Cole has been through the good times and the bad. She has been on top of the world and at the bottom of her life. The release of her 20th studio album earlier this year also shows that she is a survivor. Now, I must confess that what is on this album is not exactly what I expected, but when you consider that Leavin’ is her first album of new material in nearly four years, who really knew what to expect?

The 12-song Leavin’ is an assortment of classic pop, r&b and rock tracks from the likes of Fiona Apple, Aretha Franklin, Kate Bush, Sting, Shelby Lynne and others, held together by Natalie’s distinctive vocals. In addition to the list of classic songs there is an entirely new song, “5 Minutes Away”.

Updated with a bit of hip-hop flavor, the Aretha Franklin smash “Day Dreaming” is the first single from the album and marks the release of Natalie’s first urban/pop single in nearly 16 years (Ironically, Natalie spent much of the early part of her career being compared to Franklin.)

The title track is a soulful recast of the Shelby Lynne release I Am Shelby Lynne. Cole also tackles Neil Young’s rock standard “Old Man,” an eloquent compliment to the original that shows her capacity for warmth and subtlety. The Fiona Apple hit “Criminal” has a bluesy feel, as does “The More You Do It,” a track that pays homage to her first husband and musical collaborator, the late producer Marvin Yancy. Other soul standards are the Isley Brothers “Don’t Say Goodnight” and the Etta James inspired “Lovin’ Arms,” each of which grants Natalie the opportunity to move back to her 70’s roots.

All in all this is a good release. Not what I expected from a soul diva, but I can see where she is coming from with the different genres and styles covered here. Hopefully she will use this experience to pull a more focused direction for her next CD. Despite the great moments and songs contained here, there is just too much differentiation to the songs, leaving one feeling that the CD was a bunch of good and average songs strung together without any overall cohesion.