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"Unforgettable" in almost every way

Natalie Cole
Paramount Theatre
Aurora, IL
Nov. 20, 2005
Natalie Cole Natalie Cole

Story and Photos By Andy Argyrakis

Growing up in a musical household sure gives any aspiring artist an advantage over the competition. In the case of Natalie Cole, having Nat "King" Cole as a father didn't just provide a leg up, but gave her international attention even before she hit the recording studio. After all, the late great crooner was one of the most important and influential artists within the early days of soul, jazz and pop, becoming a household name with a string of smashes, including the immortal "Unforgettable." But despite the dad's superstar status and everyone knowing her name from birth, Natalie forged an individual identity that's endured and matured throughout the last three decades.

Though it's been three years since she released a CD, the sultan remains active on the road, touring with Whitney Houston and Dionne Warwick in 2004 and on her own this year. Her spot at the spacious and elegant Paramount Theatre was mostly a mixture of covers and hits, though the diva is returning to the studio for a release in the near future. But no matter what was performed during the chic evening, she used her wide ranged voice as a tool to captivate, mesmerize and recall memories of the classic past and smooth present.

Cole took the stage at an optimal fitness level decked out in a ruffled green gown and sporting carefully primped curly hair. Despite being the business for so long, time hasn't weathered the performer but rather made her pipes even richer. Considering her lineage and affinity for the early jazz era, she demonstrated many of those luxurious tones in the front half of the night with candlelight intimacy and stand-up bass sophistication. The supper club shuffle "Tell Me All About It" followed in the laid back tradition of the 2002 CD Ask a Women Who Knows (Verve) backed by the beauty of a six musicians and three background singers. Standards like "What a Difference a Day Makes" (made most famous by Dinah Washington) and "Lush Life" (given to her dad by the timeless Billy Strayhorn) followed suit with equal elegance and class. Of course, the virtual duet of "Unforgettable" was the most moving from that segment, during which a screen came down from the ceiling and projected black and white footage of Nat in perfect pitch trading verses with his teary eyed offspring.

After a rousing standing ovation, the gleeful "Mr. Melody" and a short break featuring the band performing several solos, Cole remerged in a white rhinestone studded blouse and flashy blue flair pants. With this modern makeover, she resorted to a more upbeat repertoire crossing a wealth of influence. She turned towards the blues come "Corinna" (taken from 1999's Snowfall on the Sahara but originally cut by Taj Mahal) and truly let loose with the decadent ballad "I've Got Love On My Mind." "This Will Be (An Everlasting Love)" turned towards the gospel realm, bringing everyone to their feet clapping and swaying like it was Sunday morning worship.

Unfortunately, that ended the initial portion of the show, which aside from a rushed encore of Bill Withers' "Lovely Day," barely reached the 90 minute mark. "Go home everybody," Cole joked to the disappointment of die-hards. "You've worked me hard!" Though that may have been the case, many essentials were conspicuously missing from the fold, including the glaring omission of "I'm Catchin' Hell." The track is frequently included where Cole normally explodes like Patti LaBelle in all her glory, an ideal match to the momentum she'd been building. From the 80s, chart busters like "Pink Cadillac" and "Miss You Like Crazy" were nowhere to be found as well, leaving some scratching their heads and checking their watches once the lights went on.

But even with these shortcomings, attendees did experience a living legend entertain with the utmost polish and professionalism in one of the Chicagoland's most acoustically immaculate and aesthetically attractive venues. While followers wait to see what style she'll churn out next, they can be confident that based on her track record and current vocal condition, it will be a worthwhile purchase. Hopefully that tour will be a little longer and cover all the bases, though even in this interim, Cole is still a diverse and delightful entertainer whose dynamics come across as divine.

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