One of the best live albums made by an occasionally troubled singer.
Daryl Easlea 2010
Natalie Live! represents the summit of the years when Natalie Cole was escaping from the legacy of her father, Nat ‘King’ Cole, rather than her later wholesale embracing of it. It was unusual for a soul star to have a double live album, that ultimate badge of the rock aristocracy. Produced by her studio production team of Chuck Jackson and Marvin Yancey, unlike many of her rock counterparts’ similar baubles of the age, you really feel that you hear her vibrancy and musicality.
Recorded live over two shows from 1977 and 1978, this shows Cole as an accomplished performer. It opens with Sophisticated Lady, her manifesto from her previous album Natalie, portraying a woman who is “hip to politics but loves her jazz”. With one foot in vaudeville and one firmly in jazz and soul, it amplifies her show business roots perfectly.
The first concert here was recorded in August 1977, her last before the birth of her son, Robert, in October of that year. She performs her minor UK Hit This Will Be with élan. It shows how female R&B was stuck in the 70s as part-show-band, part sass – look at the similar trajectories of The Pointer Sisters and LaBelle.
Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds borrows from the then-recent Elton John version, adding a gentle reggae lilt behind the chorus. Cole goes to work on it, telling it like a preacher, waiting for the choir. She switches styles often; her diva shouting on I’m Catching Hell (Living Here Alone) is worthy of full-strength Millie Jackson with its crying and pleading. Her version of Que Sera, Sera, with Sissy Peoples and Anita Anderson forming a gospel troupe behind her, is quite stunning. Cole performs with breathtaking conviction. Party Lights is a stunning groove, taken at the accelerated speed you only hear in live performance.
Natalie Live! is a buried treasure, which throws a spotlight on an artist often dismissed as merely being her father’s daughter. Before Whitney Houston had her troubles, Natalie Cole was there to show how to do it with great professionalism. It is certainly one of the best live albums made by an occasionally troubled singer, bringing a short lifetime of experience with her.