Natalie Cole has been through more ups and downs in her 30 year musical career than most artists could handle, including severe personal and professional challenges and heartaches. Musically, the talented songstress has achieved stints of popularity as a pop/soul songstress, an adult contemporary crooner and a pop standards revivalist. But her most memorable and critically important moments as a performer were her early years with former husband Marvin Yancy, creating hooky, upbeat music that gave her the chance to open up vocally and create a sound that effectively bridged contemporary soul with big band and jazz.
It has been a long time since Cole sounded like she was just having a fun time making a record, and that's what makes Leavin' something special. Inspired, varied song selection sets the tone, with top notch compositions by Neil Young, Kate Bush, Sting, the Isleys and Fiona Apple and excellent production by Dallas Austin throughout. And Cole absolutely lets loose, taking the songs in new directions, including Memphis Soul ("Criminal," "Love Letter"), bluesy ballads ("Leavin'"), adult contemporary ("The Man With The Child In His Eyes"), rock (Young's "Old Man," Sting's "If I Ever Lose My Faith In You") and old school pop/soul ("5 Minutes," "The More You Do It"), and making each cut memorable.
In a year filled with albums of covers of songs of the 70s and 80s, this may be the best; a creative masterpiece that is as consistently strong as anything Natalie Cole has released in her career and is perhaps one of the year's best discs. Highly recommended.
By Chris Rizik