Although he's one of the voices most closely associated with Christmas, Nat "King" Cole only recorded one full-length Christmas LP in his lifetime. Now, Capitol Records and UMe are out to change that with a "new" yuletide album from the legendary vocalist who died in 1965 at just 45 years of age. A Sentimental Christmas with Nat "King" Cole and Friends: Cole Classics Reimagined arrives October 29 on CD, vinyl, and digital platforms. In addition to reorchestrated solo performances, the album features virtual duets with Johnny Mathis, Gloria Estefan, John Legend, Kristin Chenoweth, and Calum Scott.
Once Cole introduced Mel Tormé and Robert Wells' "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)" in 1946, his place in the holiday music pantheon was assured. He recorded the nostalgic song four times. First was a June 1946 version not issued until 1989; second was the original mono single version. In 1953, he cut "The Christmas Song" for the third time but the first with Nelson Riddle's warm, instantly recognizable orchestration. Cole returned to the composition one last time in 1961 to record the stereo version most often heard today on the radio and most compilations and playlists. Though arranged by Charles Grean and Pete Rugolo and conducted by Ralph Carmichael, this version hewed closely to Riddle's established sound. An alternate take of the '61 track has also been released in recent years.
But before that final recording of "The Christmas Song," Cole's first and only Christmas album arrived in 1960. (He did, however, record numerous Christmas singles over the years.) The Magic of Christmas was arranged and conducted by Carmichael and produced by Lee Gillette; three years later, a new edition was issued under the name The Christmas Song incorporating the '61 version. ("God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" was dropped to accommodate the addition.) The '63 album was most recently reissued in 2018 on a CD expanded edition and in 2019 on vinyl.
A Sentimental Christmas with Nat "King" Cole and Friends: Cole Classics Reimagined isn't the late Cole's first brush with a virtual Christmas duet; his daughter Natalie followed up their Grammy Award-winning duet on "Unforgettable" with "The Christmas Song" in 1998. This time around, Jorge Calandrelli (Tony Bennett, Barbra Streisand) has arranged and conducted; Calandrelli also co-produces alongside longtime Streisand associate Jay Landers.
Johnny Mathis counts Cole among his foremost musical heroes. He adds his luminous voice to "Deck the Hall/Joy to the World" while Cole's fellow pianist John Legend pays homage with "The Christmas Song." British singer-songwriter Calum Scott joins the King on "O Holy Night." Other tracks on A Sentimental Christmas aren't Christmas songs at all (a not-infrequent trend on holiday albums of late). Gloria Estefan and Kristin Chenoweth take the duet vocals, respectively, on "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square" and "The Very Thought of You." The LP is rounded out with newly-orchestrated Cole solos drawn from The Christmas Song and elsewhere in his catalogue.
Look for A Sentimental Christmas with Nat "King" Cole and Friends: Cole Classics Reimagined from Capitol/UMe on October 29 in CD, LP, and digital formats. Walmart will carry an exclusive red vinyl pressing. You'll find the track listing and pre-order links below. The Nat "King" Cole/John Legend duet of "The Christmas Song" is streaming now at YouTube and your favorite digital music provider.
A Sentimental Christmas with Nat "King" Cole and Friends: Cole Classics Reimagined (Capitol/UMe, 2021)
- Deck the Hall/Joy to the World (duet with Johnny Mathis)
- O Come All Ye Faithful (Adeste Fideles)/The First Noel
- The Very Thought of You (duet with Kristin Chenoweth)
- Auld Lang Syne (Interlude)
- (I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons
- O Holy Night (duet with Calum Scott)
- O Little Town of Bethlehem/Silent Night
- We Wish You a Merry Christmas (Interlude)
- A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square (duet with Gloria Estefan)
- The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot
- The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on An Open Fire) (duet with John Legend)