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Although it’s titled One Night Only, vocalist Gregory Porter’s new concert album actually draws from three sold-out performances at London’s Royal Albert Hall. The 19 song selections lean heavily on material from Porter’s 2017 album Nat “King” Cole and Me, and feature Porter and his seasoned quartet backed by the 70-piece London Studio Orchestra under the direction of Vince Mendoza.
In rendering Cole’s music with such intimate detail, depth and wistful perfection, Porter was also sharing his biography, inviting the audience into his childhood where Cole — via his recordings — became like a surrogate dad in a home without one. For generations of listeners, Cole was that fatherly figure who could urge someone to “Pick Yourself Up” and start all over again just as easily as he could croon about “L-O-V-E” and ponder the psyche of the “Mona Lisa.” Porter covers those Cole songbook chestnuts and delivers transcendence on other familiar classics including “For All We Know,” “But Beautiful,” “Nature Boy,” “Sweet Lorraine,” “Quizas, Quizas, Quizas” (sung in Spanish) and the ever-charming “Smile.” And Porter’s keen storytelling abilities are spotlighted most impressively on the narrative, multi-tempo drama “Miss Otis Regrets” and the swinging “Ballerina.”
The most heartbreaking moment, Porter’s rendition of “I Wonder Who My Daddy Is,” a tune sung by Nat’s brother Freddy Cole, proves the emotional centerpiece of the show. Balancing that solemnity, and predictive of its holiday-timed release date, Porter includes a sweetly restrained version of the Cole perennial “The Christmas Song.” And though more originals would have been appreciated, Porter’s towering rendition of “When Love Was King,” his boyishly optimistic “Hey Laura” and funky “Don’t Lose Your Steam” are delightful and thematically appropriate choices from his own catalogue.— Jonathan Widran