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CD Review 

by Ted S. McGregor Jr.

Who would you rather hear sing the standard "It's De-Lovely": Robbie Williams or Ella Fitzgerald? I thought so. The soundtrack for the new Kevin Kline/Ashley Judd film De-Lovely, which documents songwriter Cole Porter's life, features his songs covered by a variety of modern artists like Elvis Costello (an odd choice), Diana Krall (getting better) and Alanis Morrisette (huh?!). On the very day the soundtrack was released in June, however, Capitol Records cool Ultra-Lounge series released a counterattack: Cocktails With Cole Porter, which features the artists who made them the classics they have become.

Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole had perhaps the two best voices in American music history, and they are featured here with four of the CD's 20 tracks. "It's De-Lovely" is the highlight, with Porter's characteristically self-aware intro and its unforgettable refrain. Although Ella is perfect on the song, she manages to top even that performance on the live version of "Let's Do It (Let's Fall In Love)," which is backed up by the Duke Ellington Orchestra.

While Porter's sexual orientation makes up the subtext of the new film, there was no hiding the fact that this guy knew how to live. Back in the 1930s and '40s, he wrote songs from his Manhattan penthouse, generally with a cocktail in hand, surrounded by the glitterati of New York every night. So it's fun to see the liner notes sprinkled with cocktail recipes. The guys at Ultra-Lounge have made repackaging classic American music into an art form. (Their Christmas CDs are particularly great.)

Of course, they're working with some great material, so it's hard to go wrong. Dean Martin pumps his own alcohol-fueled attitude into "Anything Goes," and Louis Prima and Keely Smith will rattle your cage on "I've Got You Under My Skin." Peggy Lee, Louis Armstrong, Sammy Davis Jr. and Sarah Vaughn are also featured on these crisply remastered tracks.

But this is Cole Porter's show, and with his name back in the pop culture lexicon because of the film, here's your chance to hear what all the fuss is about. Most of these songs are from films or Broadway shows. His wordplay is exquisitely smart -- his wit is as dry as a good martini -- and his scores are perfect for Big Band interpretations, allowing for all the musical flourishes that a 10-piece demands. So if you want to get to know Cole Porter's music, skip the cheap imitations and go straight for the real deal.

Publication date: 08/26/04
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