It's hardly a criticism of Freddy Cole to say that he sounds almost eerily like big brother Nat. They share an unmistakable vocal timbre that can only be attributed to incredibly fortunate genes. This 1997 Fantasy album is one of his best. A swinging collection of standards delivered with elegance, emotion, and a mature confidence. Few singers know their way around an old tune like Cole. An outstanding pianist (again like his brother), Cole bows out on the keyboards on all but one tune here in favor of soulful young phenom Cyrus Chestnut.
Anybody who has followed the development of Ray Wylie Hubbard as an artist over the last dozen years or so has had to be keenly aware that he's been moving through changes in lyric style, melodic invention, and production styles. He's also been on a spiritual odyssey in his music that culminated on the excellent Eternal & Lowdown. Growl is a record of an awareness gained; it is expressed in the most basic, elemental physical and emotional truths (from humor to doubt to surrender to anger at hypocrisy) in these songs.
It seems strange that folks like Ray Wylie Hubbard once lived such wild lives but have been able to make solid comebacks later in life. Strange, because Hubbard, on Delirium Tremolos, sounds as good as he ever has. Better yet, the album has a nice, mellow country sound, and Hubbard has discarded, for the time being, his penchant for preachy, comic songs.
Freddy Cole is a marvelous singer, combining consummate ease with a lyric and acute sense of melodic and rhythmic phrasing. Whether it's the lost love of the title song or the reliable romance of Cole Porter's "I Concentrate on You," Cole's warm baritone creates the impression that everything he sings has been made up on the spot, as if every lyric is the current sum of his thoughts and experiences. That conversational art is much in evidence in this mix of Brazilian and jazz tunes, extending to the way Cole interacts with his sidemen and they with him. There are two basic groups here, an all-star Latin septet with arrangements by pianist Arturo O'Farrill and Cole's own working quartet, but there are also several permutations in between. O'Farrill's work is tailor-made to Cole's throaty voice, mixing it with contrasting flute and guitar and complementary trombone timbres, the latter provided by Angel "Papa" Vazquez, just one of several superb soloists. Tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander adds inventive, hard-swinging tenor to "I Concentrate"; Joe Beck's guitars define the delicacy of Jobim's "Sem Voce," sung here in the original Portuguese; and O'Farrill's piano is a dancing delight whenever it comes to the fore.