On 4th day of Christmas … I listened to A Sentimental Christmas with Nat “King” Cole and Friends – Cole Classics Reimagined

(cover image courtesy Capitol Records)

It is possible for a Christmas album to actually feel like the season after which it is named?

Almost as if Christmas has taken on some sort of gloriously heartwarming, reassuring form and come to us complete with all the love, happiness and hope of the season decanted into a piece of vinyl (yes, we’re going old school; somehow 0s and 1s on Spotify don’t quite fir the image) which as it spins on the turntable feels so festive you can reach out and touch it?

To be honest, and much as we hate to admit it, that may require the kind of urban realism for which mere mortals are not equipped but when you listen to the soft and welcoming delights of A Sentimental Christmas with Nat “King” Cole and Friends: Cole Classics Reimagined, you can help but feel as if the season, which finds expression in all kinds of records, movies, shows and books in sometimes overwhelming profusion each year, has found a physical home in this wondrous set of tunes.

Released to mark the 75th anniversary of the premiere of one of the songs on the album, “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)” 1946 – which now features the vocals of Grammy great John Legend – the material on A Sentimental Christmas “was sourced from Cole’s timeless [1961] album, The Christmas Song
[originally released as The Magic of Christmas” in 1960], and other recordings from his esteemed catalog.” (Broadway World)

These songs, which are exquisitely transportive and timelessly evocative of the season all on their own, combine Cole’s emotionally-resonant, comfortingly gravelly voice with the superlative tones of modern artists like “Kristin Chenoweth, Gloria Estefan, John Legend, Johnny Mathis, and Calum Scott” (Broadway World) to stunningly atmospheric effect.

Take for instance the “Deck the Halls” / “Joy to the World” medley with Johnny Mathis which opens with the sort of music that you would expect to find on a quintessentially escapist Christmas movie.

Not content to dazzle with the goosebump-inducing wonder of its opening music, the two songs segue into a two-song medley so upliftingly joyous that you swear Christmas has taken on the aforementioned physical form before you; it’s like the perfect night of carols and eggnog, smiling faces and presents in arms as the snow softly falling on a picture-perfect scene.

It’s that perfectly evocative, leaving every other carols night you have ever been to in the festive dust.

It won’t surprise you to learn that The Christmas Song (The Magic of Christmas) was the highest-selling Christmas album of the 1960s and nor will it come as much of a shock that ‘O Come All Ye Faithful (Adeste Fideles)” and “The First Noel”, which features Baptist pastor’s son Cole’s vocal unadorned is quite likely one of the most on-point version of either song that you have ever heard.

The same can be said of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” coupled with “Silent Night” or “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” which captures the minor key melancholy of a Christmas which may see you far away from the ones you love and places you hold dear.

It’s only an interlude on the album but those 40 seconds are so spine-tinglingly evocative that they mark a beautifully-judged intro to “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” where, through the magic of digital techonology, Cole and Gloria Estefan duet to deliciously romantic effect.

It may seem strange at first glance to have some of Cole’s non-festive classics included but any doubts are erased almost immediately when you come to appreciate the goosebump-inducing gorgeousness of Cole’s jazz-influenced odes to love but also realise that many of the great iconic songs of the season revolve around the face that you spend Christmas with friends and family but most importantly, the one you love.

Including songs like “I Love You (For Sentimental Reasons” and “The Very Thought of You” (a sparklingly soft duet with Kristin Chenoweth) is a masterstroke, infusing the romance of Christmas, which matters as much if not more than the presents, decorations and the sense of magical time and place; they are just-so accompaniments for songs like “O Holy Night” (with Calum Scott) and “The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forget” (Coles alone) which conjure up the most wonderful time of the year in ways that make your heart sing.

When you stop to think about it, and likely you’ll be too swept in the majesty and seasonal loveliness of this album that all conscious thought will fly from your mind, Cole, even more so that people like Sinatra, is the perfect (there’s that word again but it’s so apt) voice for a season that we want to have leap fully formed and alive into our dreary, uncheery realities.

Cole manages to make Christmas come alive on every song on A Sentimental Christmas with Nat “King” Cole and Friends: Cole Classics Reimagined, in such a way that as you decorate your tree, gather with friends or wrap present on Christmas Eve imagining the joy they’ll bring the next day, it’s hard to think of a better album to make it seem so much more magically special than it already is.

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