Collectors’ Choice has been responsible for putting out Nat King Cole’s entire Capitol Records catalogue on CD in the form of gorgeous reissues. Working with Nat’s daughter Carole and the Nat Cole Estate of King Cole Partners, Collectors’ Choice put out a series of twofers for the first few rounds of Cole albums. Pairing the twofers can be difficult, but one such pairing that certainly goes together is that of Ramblin’ Rose and Dear Lonely Hearts.
Both albums were originally released by Capitol in 1962 and both contain a sort of bubblegum pop feel run through country-western filters. The songs are unsophisticated and conventional, often backed by overpowering choral vocals and a sort of clip-clop rhythm section.
With Ramblin’ Rose, the album was structured around the title track. The song is simple and is clearly the best track on a fairly run of the mill recording.
Often looked at as a critical stain on the anthology of Cole records, Ramblin’ Rose is an album built on a formula Ray Charles used for Modern Sounds in Country & Western Music. The idea was to take a group of classic, well-known country-flavoured tunes and retool them with a sort of big band classical jazz tone to breathe new life into old favourites.
That idea worked so well with Charles that, sooner or later, any pop singer with a record contract was trying out the recipe and praying for success. Such was the way with Nat King Cole and his take on the method would prove to be less than stellar.
The problem with Ramblin’ Rose, for me, comes with the fact that none of it feels natural. After the title track dissipates, Cole ventures through uncomfortable territory with the clip-clop horse-trail percussion guiding his path through songs like “Wolverton Mountain” and “Your Cheatin’ Heart.”
Other tracks find Nat digging back even further, getting downright prehistoric with “Goodnight, Irene, Goodnight” and giving the sing-along treatment to “When You’re Smiling.” Both tracks feel awkward and tense.
Despite all of the criticism, Ramblin’ Rose was an enormous hit at the time and the fans seemed to really enjoy Cole’s take on the country genre.
Dear Lonely Hearts is a better album from a critical standpoint, serving up more normal fare without the goofiness of Ramblin’ Rose. Once again, the album was structured around the title track and, once again, the title track was a significant hit.
This time, Cole uses the idea of loneliness and broken relationships as his foundation. The idea was to capitalize on the hit of Ramblin’ Rose by following up with a selection of carefully-selected and impeccably-arranged songs. While Belford Hendricks does arrange things nicely in spots, there is nothing about Dear Lonely Hearts that really stands out beyond the lead-off single.
Cole used many of the same writers from Ramblin’ Rose to assist in arranging the songs on Dear Lonely Hearts and it shows. The same clip-clop percussion shows up often and the devastating background singers are still present, yet this recording has a bit more class.
Standards like “All by Myself” from Irving Berlin lose some of their original power as a result of this methodology, but Cole and Hendricks don’t entirely ruin things and some moments still reach some pretty admirable heights.
Cole’s voice saves the day on “My First and Only Lover,” a messy composition driven forward only by the baritones refusal to compromise. And “It’s a Lonesome Old Town” would have been utterly forgettable had it not been for Cole’s take on the country tune.
Both albums in this collection play with the country and western genre and both recordings come up short. Nat King Cole’s normally high standards appear to have been set aside in search of getting in on the trend of the day and, as such, the art suffers.
Ramblin’ Rose and Dear Lonely Hearts were both rather popular in the eyes of the fans and will still please lovers of the genre. Overall, however, this is a weak effort featuring poor compositions, uncomfortable moments, and an out-of-touch sounding baritone trying to hold it all together.