MARK MURPHY Sings the Nat King Cole Songbook" was inspired by what Murphy describes as "my first influence and Nat's taste." Of course, "he could make everything sound good," Murphy explains in the liner notes, "but he also picked such wonderful songs."

The same could be said of Murphy on this splendid and sensitive recording. Pick a song -- any song -- and you'll find Murphy in excellent form, whether warming up to a deliciously somber arrangement of "Nature Boy," recalling the classic barroom lament "I Keep Goin' Back to Joe's" or reprising the more universal favorites "Lush Life" and "Tangerine."

Not the least of the album's pleasures is the discreet and thoughtful accompaniment provided by keyboardist Gary Schunk, guitarist Joe Lo Duca and bassist Bob Magnusson. Just as Murphy refrains from mimicking Cole, there's no attempt here to duplicate the reserved swing of the Cole Trio. On the contrary, only one musician appears on any given song. It's a risky move, yet one that ultimately makes Murphy's performance all the more intimate and distinctive.

MARK MURPHY -- "Mark Murphy Sings the Nat King Cole Songbook Vol. One" (Muse MR 5308); appearing at Cates, Friday through August 17.