Although Nicolas Bearde perfectly timed the release of his warm and intimate, easy swinging album I Remember You: The Music of Nat King Cole to celebrate the legend’s 100th birthday, the versatile veteran singer’s engaging collection comes in the wake of another celebrated Cole tribute from 2017, Gregory Porter’s “Nat King Cole & Me.”
While Porter’s album is likewise excellent in its way, a few key elements set Bearde’s work apart and a few cuts above. Material-wise, he and producer, arranger and pianist Josh Nelson include a few tunes you might find on any Cole collection (“L-O-V-E,” “Sweet Lorraine”), but for the most part happily go off the beaten path with less obvious but no less exquisite fare like “That Sunday, That Summer,” “Funny (Not Much”) and “The Rules of the Road.
Another plus is Bearde’s slightly rawer, weathered vocal tone, which brings a richly emotional “lived in” depth to songs that more pure voiced singers (including Cole himself) rarely tap into. There’s no orchestral sweetening, just a groove scheme that flows from lilting to raucous stirred up by a hipster ensemble that alternately includes stalwarts like Peter Horvath (piano), Eric Alexander (sax), two bassists and three drummers.
One the great creative advantages that Bearde brings to this and his batch of other releases since the 2000s is his colorful background as a dramatic actor. This makes him an ace storyteller, inviting us to re-experience and re-imagine Nat in an easy relatable way that needs no bells and whistles, just a pure outpouring of a passionate musical heart.