This is the only Marvin 'Liberace' record I own, and it's quite enough thank you. As early as 1964, it was clear to everyone that Gaye wasn't going to cash up his meal ticket by covering "My Funny Valentine" and singing for fat white women in $1000 evening gowns, but that didn't stop him from indulging himself just one last time.
To be fair, Nat Cole was Gaye's main inspiration - Cole's not the worst crooner by a long shot, and it's not like Gaye was trying to swindle anyone by titling this album 'Marvin Gaye Kicks All Sorts of Rhythm and Blues Ass' - people knew what they were getting into when they bought this. And shit, I like the chickenfried "Ramblin' Rose" as much as the next hateful honky. "Unforgettable" too.
It must be said that Gaye is not at his best when he's restricting the volume of his voice to fit beneath some union scale orchestra, like Cole may've been. Gaye needs to belt it out, and there's just not a lot of room for that on songs like "Nature Boy" or "Mona Lisa".
The uptempo Big Band material - "Straighten Up and Fly Right", "It's Only a Paper Moon", and "Send For Me" - works pretty well, though I don't have any excuse for "Calypso Blues", which is so completely embarrassing and racist (self-inflicted, at that) that it makes Al Jolson look like Malcolm X.
Strangely enough, there was a whole faddish subgenre of this 'exotica' music around at the time, which seemed to exist for the sole purpose of playing off white people's 'taboo' desire for members of 'savage' races. The artwork for such albums always showed some busty white chick tied to a stake by a fire, surrounded by oiled-up, war-painted, threatening black men, or some other variation with a black woman. Of course, we've solved all our race issues now, so we don't have to think that way anymore, now do we?
by Reviewer: Capt Bonanza
(blogging at Capn Marvel's Bonanza [Defunct]