Leavin' is the twentieth studio album by American recording artist Natalie Cole, released on September 26, 2006, by Verve Records. The album consists of ten cover versions of various R&B and pop songs and two original songs: "5 Minutes Away" and "Don't Say Goodnight (It's Time for Love)." It was the second of Cole's albums to be released by Verve Records, and her first album in four years, following Ask a Woman Who Knows (2002). Cole promoted the album as a return to her R&B roots, distancing herself from an identification as a jazz artist.
After its release, critics gave the album generally positive reviews, praising Cole's interpretations of the covered material, and comparing her favorably to contemporary R&B artists. The album had limited commercial success in the United States, peaking at number 97 on the Billboard 200. Internationally, the album charted in Germany and Switzerland. The album spawned one single – Cole's cover of Aretha Franklin's "Day Dreaming" – with an accompanying music video. She performed the song at the BET special An Evening of Stars: Tribute to Aretha Franklin. She embarked on a theatre tour in the fall of 2006 to support the album.
Co-executive producer David Munk said that the idea for the record started after his suggestion that Cole "return to her R&B roots by recording an intimate, classic soul CD with a small group of sidemen and simple production". Munk served as an executive producer for the album. He viewed the recording sessions in Atlanta as eclectic and described Cole's ambition: "[S]he shared with me her hope of making a country-soul record in Memphis; she also spoke of doing a piano-voice album and of recording in Spanish". In an interview with American Songwriter, Cole said the album "was born out of desperation" to record a pop/urban project rather than a jazz one. She sought to avoid being typecast as a jazz singer by returning to R&B and demanding more artistic control. By being an arranger on the album, she said the recording sessions reminded her of how she: "missed the freedom ... ad-libbing, you know, and being able to holler every now and then ... all of that energy". She initially looked for original songs to record for the album, but said "the songs being sent were pretty bad." An article in Vibe said Cole's decision to create a covers album was a marketing strategy to breed "a connection between song and interpreter and between singer and audience" and appeal to "fans yearning for the good old days before they had to hire a sitter to go see a show". Cole later clarified she could not afford to record an album of original material, explaining "we're doing a contemporary urban record on a jazz budget".
While promoting the album, Cole said "R&B, rock and pop has always been my forte" and called the music something she wished she had recorded "at least five years ago". She revealed her dissatisfaction with being labeled a jazz singer and her desire to showcase her versatility as an artist, saying she aimed to "put out some music that we hadn't heard in a long time from anybody, really". The project was Cole's first collaboration with R&B producer Dallas Austin. Rashod Ollison of The Virginian-Pilot wrote the album represented how "[Cole] ad hung up the gowns and returned to her soul roots"; In past performances, Cole would wear gowns when singing jazz. Following Verve's requirement that the album had to include original material, Cole described her experiences with Austin, and keyboard player Chanz Parkman, as the inspiration for "Five Minutes Away". Prior to the album's release, CBS News' Caitlin Johnson wrote that it was "a sharp turn for a woman perhaps best known for singing jazz standards." Johnson connected the project to Cole's decision to reinvent herself and that its title represented "leaving the past behind".
Leavin' is a contemporary R&B and pop music album consisting of twelve tracks, with an additional remix on digital copies. Cole said the material "has given me the opportunity to explore the greatness in the songs of some of our most talented and gifted songwriters," emphasizing the album's "fresh new twist on some great music". The album opens with Cole's cover of Fiona Apple's "Criminal". Len Righi of The Morning Call expressed surprise at Cole's ability to transform the "agonizing, brazen lament" into "a funky, Tina Turner-type, rump-shaker." The second track is a cover of Neil Young's "Old Man"; David Munk called it "a personal rumination on her father". The third song, a cover of Aretha Franklin's "Day Dreaming", was recorded after Austin sang it in the studio. Cole said she "added a little bit of a hip-hop feel to it". Richard Harrington of The Washington Post felt that the fourth track, a cover of Shelby Lynne's "Leavin'", "metaphorically put a little distance between the original R&B diva and the pop star Cole". The fifth song is a cover of Ronnie Dyson's "The More You Do It (The More I Like It Done To Me)"; NPR's Jason King attributes the inclusion of "the saucy but largely forgotten Yancy-Jackson mid-'70s track" to his suggestion to Cole's A&R director. The song contains an homage to Cole's previous single "This Will Be (An Everlasting Love)". The seventh track is a cover of Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge's "Loving Arms" (here titled "Lovin' Arms"), which Verve marketed as inspired by Etta James, allowing Cole "the opportunity to move back to her 70's roots with rich, shimmering vocals".
Donna Kimura of Jazzreview.com called Cole's funky approach to the eighth track on the album, a cover of Bonnie Raitt's "Love Letter", as "a worthy, fresh interpretation instead of a copy". "The Man with the Child in His Eyes" was described as an "ethereal" take on the Kate Bush song. Maura Johnston of Rolling Stone highlighted the original song "5 Minutes Away" as one of Natalie Cole's top ten essential songs, calling it "a wise rumination on love and life accented by dry horns and capped with a rousing call-and-response". The tenth track is the original song "Don't Say Goodnight (It's Time for Love)", written by Cole, Ernie Isley, and Chris Jasper. Cole explained that she included the cover of Des'ree's "You Gotta Be" as the eleventh song on the album due to the positive fan response to her prior performances of it; she described it as an example of her experimentation with "bringing a jazzy flavor to some pop songs". The album concludes with a cover of Sting's "If I Ever Lose My Faith in You", which emphasizes its spiritual context through the addition of four Beatitudes. An acoustic version of "Lovin' Arms" featuring American blues musician Keb' Mo' was included as a digital bonus track.
"Day Dreaming" was released as the lead single from the album on August 1, 2006. Director Doug Biro shot the accompanying music video, which features Cole singing with her band in front of a white background. The song earned Cole a nomination at the 49th Annual Grammy Awards for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance, but she lost to Mary J. Blige's "Be Without You". Cole performed the single at the BET special An Evening of Stars: Tribute to Aretha Franklin along with her arrangement of Franklin's 1970 single "Call Me".
Leavin' was first released by Verve Records on CD and MP3 download in the United States on September 26, 2006. In 2010, it was made available in Europe, Indonesia, and Russia on CD. To promote the album, Cole was slated to appear on "a number of major morning and late night television programs" to perform "several intimate showcases" of her music. She also embarked on a theater tour in the fall of 2006. It was her first club-sized tour in roughly two decades. Cole had chosen to sing her 1970s hits in an attempt to draw more R&B fans. She also decided to perform every song from the album, saying she couldn't "remember when a performer took a whole album and performed it onstage".
Leavin' received positive reviews from music critics. The album was called a "treat for any Cole fan" by Andy Kellman of AllMusic, who drew attention to how it sounds like it was recorded at a "leisurely pace". Kellman noted that Cole was "breez[ing] through an easygoing set of covers". The BBC's Chris Rogers defined the album as "an ultra smooth mix of standards both tasteful and obtuse". Leavin' was compared to to Cole's 1999 release, Snowfall on the Sahara by Jay S. Jacobs of PopEntertainment, who viewed it as "jazzy but decidedly more modern and surprisingly strong". People's Ralph Novak, Chuck Arnold, V. R. Peterson, and Monica Rizzo commended Cole's decision to "ditch the evening-gown fare on her new CD" by recording more contemporary songs. Gugu Mkhabela from News24 awarded the album three out of five stars, describing the material as "pure old school with a modern twist", with Cole providing "a touch of class and some depth to boot".
Critics compared Leavin's to works by other R&B artists. Rogers wrote that it was a perfect fit for listeners of Joss Stone and Jamie Cullum The material was compared to Ella Fitzgerald's 1993 album The Best of the Song Books and Diana Ross's 2006 album Blue by Daniel Garrett of The Compulsive Reader, who praised each woman as the "three ladies of song". Honolulu Star-Bulletin's Gary C.W. Chun favorably compared the album to Gladys Knight's Before Me. Rogers wrote that Cole's vocal performance demonstrated a "tasteful restraint" and was an improvement over contemporary artists. He followed this up by saying Cole's voice was better than the "modulated warbling that seems to pass for contemporary R&B these days".
The album had limited commercial success in the United States. It reached a peak position of number 97 on the Billboard 200, and spent two weeks on the chart. It also peaked Billboard's R&B Albums at number 16, spending eight weeks on the chart. Internationally, Leavin' had a relatively limited commercial performance. In Germany, the album peaked on the German Album Charts at number 92. In Switzerland, it reached a peak position of number 76 on the Swiss Album Charts. Two years following its release, the album had sold roughly 57,000 copies.
All tracks except "You Gotta Be" were produced by Dallas Austin; "You Gotta Be" was produced by Natalie Cole.
The following credits are adapted from AllMusic:
The follow release history was adapted from Amazon.