A New Direction for Natalie Cole Natalie Cole has made a name for herself by crafting fresh interpretations of jazz standards. But for her latest CD, she chose something different. Leavin' is an ecclectic mix of classic pop, R&B and rock songs by artists like Fiona Apple, Aretha Franklin and Sting.
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A New Direction for Natalie Cole

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A New Direction for Natalie Cole

A New Direction for Natalie Cole

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I'm Farai Chideya. And this is NEWS & NOTES.

(Soundbite of song from album “Leavin'”)

Ms. NATALIE COLE (Artist): (Singing) They say that love is a two way street. But you can't prove that by me.

CHIDEYA: Singer Natalie Cole has staked the claim as an interpreter of standards for quite some time. She first struck gold with rhythm & blues, but now the eight-time Grammy winner is making a departure from her most familiar territory. For her latest CD, Natalie Cole sings soulful renditions of songs made popular by other artists including Sting, Kate Bush, Neil Young, Aretha Franklin and Shelby Lynne.

(Soundbite of song “Leavin'”)

Ms. COLE: (Singing) Hey, I'm leaving. Hey, this time it's for good.

CHIDEYA: “Leavin'” is the title song from her new recording. Natalie Cole recently dropped by the studios of NPR West to talk about her life, her career and her latest musical direction.

(Soundbite of song “Leavin'”)

Ms. COLE: (Singing) Hey, I'm leaving. Hey, you can't make me stay.

Ms. COLE: I was kind of getting a little bored, if you will, with the jazz world. So I was more than happy to do another kind of music.

(Soundbite of song “Leavin'”)

Ms. COLE: (Singing) Now I know it's going to be hard on you, once it hits you that I'm gone.

Ms. COLE: For me, it's always a challenge because you can easily do something that everybody knows, or you can take a little bit of something that everybody knows and then take some other songs that maybe aren't quite as familiar and basically put you on spin on them. And that's what we've done with this music.

(Soundbite of song “Daydreaming”)

Ms. COLE: (Singing) Daydreaming and I'm thinking of you. Daydreaming and I'm thinking of you. Daydreaming and I'm thinking of you. Daydreaming and I'm thinking of you.

CHIDEYA: Aretha Franklin's “Daydreaming”

Ms. COLE: Mm-hmm.

CHIDEYA: Did you have a big love for this song before? And how do you think you did it differently?

Ms. COLE: I always have a big love for the song. Dallas Austin, who is the producer of this project, was sitting in a studio, we were just kind of talking, running ideas back and forth, and all of sudden he started singing daydreaming and I'm thinking of you. And I'm like - what, I love that song.

(Soundbite of song “Daydreaming”)

MS. COLE(Singing) He's a kind of guy that you give your everything, trust all your heart, share all of your love ‘till death do you apart, won't break your heart.

Ms. COLE: Then he goes, yeah I do too. So let's do it. It wasn't that difficult because “Daydreaming” just has a very cool vibe to it. I just wanted to speed it up a little. Dallas, also the drummer on a lot of his projects, so he, you know, have a tasty way of doing drums and we added a little bit of a hip-hop feel to it and there you have it.

(Soundbite of song “Daydreaming”)

Ms. COLE: (Singing) Hey, baby let's get away. Let's go somewhere far, baby can we. Well, I don't care, oh.

Ms. COLE: And it was just really, really a lot of fun. I think we took it to kind of another place. Aretha loves it, which of course is very, very gratifying for all of us.

CHIDEYA: “If I Ever Lose My Faith In You,” Sting.

Ms. COLE: Yes.

(Soundbite of music)

CHIDEYA: What attracted you to that and again what kind of personal approach did you take?

Ms. COLE: Beautiful song. I've always loved that song of Sting's. I'm a big of his. And when I heard this song I thought to myself, he's either talking about Trudy only - Trudy, who is his wife - as well as, you know, his family, his family values and I think his faith in a higher power.

(Soundbite of music)

And I just wanted to make even more of an emphasis on the spiritual level, so we added the Beatitudes from scripture. I chose them, you know, rather carefully. There's actually eight Beatitudes, I used four. And so it's kind of already puts more of a spiritual spin on it. And it sounds kind of like chanting in the beginning of the song. And then just to give it a really nice great kind of a rockish feel to the song itself. I love the way it turned out. I had to fight to get this song on the record.

(Soundbite of song “If I Ever Lose My Faith In You”)

Ms. COLE (Singing) You could say I lost my sense of direction. You could say all of this and worse, but if I ever lose my faith in you there'd be nothing left for me to do. Some would say I was a lost girl in a lost world.

CHIDEYA: How big of a role has spirituality played in where you've been? What you do? How you keep doing it?

Ms. COLE: Yeah, it plays a lot of - it has a great role in my life, in my music. I really draw from it so often. And I think as you move on in your life and you get older and then you get into different seasons and stages, you know, of your development as a person that you start wanting, you start thinking about things. And at least for me, I start wanting to share things that are going on, you know, in my brain, in my mind, in my heart, things that I see.

It always comes back to my connection to the creator and what I'm here for and what I'm supposed to be doing and what I'm not supposed to be doing. And so I put this task upon myself, you know, and I think it's very God-related and it helps me a lot.

CHIDEYA: You have definitely, you know, been through some moments in your life that have been trying, going through drugs, addiction. Has artistry help you get through in any way?

Ms. COLE: I don't think so. I think that after I achieved some kind of sobriety in my life, I was able to return to music and look at it in a really positive way. I think probably one of the most difficult things that can happen to you when you're dealing either with an addiction or a depression, the hardest thing to do is to go out and sing music, or to play music, or to create music.

For a lot of people I think it's kind of an innovational tool that motivates them, but for me I think it was just really difficult. I found myself in just too much of a dark place to want to be creative. At one point, I wanted to stop singing and, you know, things like that. So I think everybody reacts to it differently, but certainly my music can lift and has lifted me when I was coming out of, you know, those really difficult times.

(Soundbite of song “Five Minutes Away”)

(Singing) Well, I've been a lot of places.

CHIDEYA: I want to return to your current CD, “Five Minutes Away.”

Ms. COLE: Right. We managed to get one little song in there. Well, the record company wanted us to get an original song on this record, and so Dallas and myself and the keyboard player, Chanz Parkman, put this little song together. It was kind of my concept and - who's a lovely person. We met a year and half ago and it turned out that we are only five minutes away from each other. And that's what the song is basically about.

CHIDEYA: That's great.

Ms. COLE: Yeah, and part of the lyrics says, you know, I've been all around the world just to find love was right at my door.

(Soundbite of song “Five Minutes Away”)

Ms. COLE: (Singing) You know I've been all around the world to find you. It was right at my door five minutes away, five minutes away, five minutes. I found love, love, love, just minutes away.

Ms. COLE: And that's because sometimes I think that we just work so hard at trying to find that perfect person or that may or - and you just never know, sometimes it's closer than you think.

CHIDEYA: Nat King Cole had kind of the qualities - in a different way that you think about a fictional character like Cliff Huxtable, you know, everybody wanted him as their dad.

Ms. COLE: Mm-hmm. That's true.


Ms. COLE: Yeah, that's true.

CHIDEYA: And that's got to be - that's got to cut both ways if it's really is your dad, right?

Ms. COLE: Right, yeah, we were at one point, I think it was Ebony magazine that counted us as the black Kennedys in the ‘50s. That's quite a thing to live up to, you know, when you are living your life in the public eye whether you want to or not. But people certainly thought they had a total picture of what it was like being in the Cole family, and I think that, you know, a lot of people thought, you know, my dad would walk around singing all day long, which is, you know, not true. Or, you know, that we just have some kind of, you know, special life.

CHIDEYA: Did that affect both the positive aspects of you becoming a singer and the negative aspects of issues that you might have to deal with later on?

Ms. COLE: You know, I didn't know that I was going to be a singer. When I was growing up and I was such a daddy's girl, I spent as much time with him as possible because it was very difficult finding that private time or alone time with my dad in particular. It impacted me in a way that my private life is - it's, you know, I don't live it any - really that differently than my public life.

And my - I think in watching my father growing up, he was pretty much the same guy, whether he was on stage or whether he was at home. And not knowing it then, but later on I realized how much people admired him for that. And that's something that I tried to do in my own life as I was growing up, became an adult and went on to have my own family. And I know it was very difficult for him to not spend as much time with his children as he would have like to. We had a wonderful, you know, we didn't have the quantity but we did at least have the quality of life.

(Soundbite of song “The Christmas Song”)

Mr. NAT KING COLE (Musician): (Singing) Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose, yuletide carols

CHIDEYA: “The Christmas Song,” that song is a staple in my family.

Ms. COLE: Absolutely.

CHIDEYA: And I'm think in families across the world. Did your dad at least sing you the “The Christmas Song” at Christmas?

Ms. COLE: Nope.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. COLE: All we'd do is just, right around the end of November, we'd start making the decorations at the house. And once my mom put on dad's Christmas record, not just “The Christmas Song” but he had - by then he had recorded a whole Christmas record with all kinds of Christmas songs on it. But once that record went on, it was Christmas, and I think that's true for almost anyone that has heard that song or that album.

That there's just something about the time in which it was recorded, just the whole environment, you know, it just changes almost magically your home and it's just really a wonderful, wonderful thing. It's probably the most famous song that anyone has ever recorded, and people do say that it's not officially Christmas until you put Nat King Cole's “The Christmas Song” on.

CHIDEYA: Absolutely.

Ms. COLE: Yeah.

(Soundbite of song “The Christmas Song”)

Mr. COLE: (Singing) …how to fly. And so I'm offering this simple phrase to kids from one to 92. Although it's been said many times, many ways, Merry Christmas to you.

CHIDEYA: What's ahead for you?

Ms. COLE: I'm definitely looking forward to writing more songs. The next record that we'll do will probably be - at least the majority if not all of it will be originals. People are still - will still react to good music if we can just get the good music out there. So I'm going to continue on my little journey and do what I do best.

CHIDEYA: And we'll be there with you.

Ms. COLE: I hope so. Thank you very much.

CHIDEYA: Well, thank you, Natalie.

(Soundbite of song “Old Man”)

Ms. COLE: (Singing) Old man, look at my life. I am a lot like you were. Old man, look at my life. I'm 24 and there's so much more. It's lonely in paradise that you should've seen it too. Love, lost, cuts across, give me things that don't get lost, like a coin that won't get tossed going home to you.

CHIDEYA: Natalie Cole's latest CD is “Leavin'.” To hear music from the CD just log on to NPR.org.

(Soundbite of song “Old Man”)

Ms. COLE: (Singing) Old man, look at my life. I'm a lot like you. I need someone to love me the whole day through.

CHIDEYA: That's our show for today and thanks for sharing your time with us. NEWS & NOTES was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.

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