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Freddy Cole: Singing the Blues

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Freddy Cole’s latest HighNote release, his eighth in 10 years, is a sort of 50th anniversary gift to himself, and to his listeners. In 1964, Cole made his LP debut with a fine, blues-tinged collection called Waiter, Ask the Man to Play the Blues. It should have set him on the path to stardom, but he sounded a bit too much like big brother Nat.

Nat died just a year later, and Freddy has long since established himself as both a major name and a superlative interpreter of the Great American Songbook. Now, at 83, he revisits the blues, at least in part, bringing to such classics as “Goin’ Down Slow,” “This Time I’m Gone for Good” and “Muddy Water Blues” (also included on Waiter) a gravel-paved sagacity.

Working with his regular quartet mates-guitarist Randy Napoleon, bassist Elias Bailey and drummer Curtis Boyd-Cole adds tenor saxophonist Harry Allen and guest vocalist Theresa Hightower. As celebrated for his playing as for his singing, Cole is shown at the 88s on both the front and back covers. Yet, according to the album credits, he cedes the piano to frequent collaborator John DiMartino.

Venturing beyond the blues, Cole delivers a powerfully poignant reading of Fran Landesman and Tommy Wolf’s “The Ballad of the Sad Young Men” and pairs with Hightower for both the sultry “All We Need Is a Place” and the furtive “Pretending.” And, as always, he nods to his iconic sibling, first with the cunning kiss-off “Meet Me at No Special Place,” then with Nat’s downhearted “My Mother Told Me.”

Originally Published