08 December 2015

Frank Sinatra Spotlight!

A Frank Sinatra Spotlight!
By Kristin Battestella

Ring a ding ding! Let's takes some time during this festive season to honor what would have been The Chairman of the Board's 100th birthday. Collectors or completists and longtime listeners can always enjoy these sets, and budding fans can be gifted with some Sinatra education here. Now, on with the swing!

Capitol Collector Series – From “I've Got the World on a String” and “Young at Heart” to “High Hopes” and “Witchcraft,” this 1989 hour is brimming with fifties biggies be they brooding or brassy. Soft notes begin “I'm Walking Behind You” and the earlier, crooning sounds continue with “From Here to Eternity,” “Don't Worry 'bout Me,” and “Melody of Love” featuring bandleader Ray Anthony. “South of the Border” adds some swanky flavor alongside “Three Coins in the Fountain,” but despite its title, “Learnin' the Blues” remains a peppy hit. “Same Old Saturday Night,” “(Love Is) The Tender Trap,” and “Hey Jealous Lover” provide more catchy, and I think just about everyone can sing along to “Love and Marriage” of course thanks to Married...with Children. I must also confess, among other sports connections, my recently late and oldest cat was named after “Chicago.” A cute little dialogue leads into “(How Little It Matters) How Little We Know” while more romance anchors “Can I Steal a Little Love?” and “All the Way” before "Nice 'n' Easy" sends the session out on a breezy, finger snapping note. These twenty shorter tracks make for a great mix of more recognizable Sinatra staples, a few acclaimed film tunes, and songs that ironically carry a whiff of his Swoonatra, pre-Capital era – a fine blend for the veteran fan or would be listener.

Duets – No, this 45 minute later day revisit is not the purest in the titular sense. The stars here are at times practically singing along to Sinatra on the radio thanks to spliced vocals and an arranged production. Thus, I hate to say it, but not everybody can sing how Frank is asking them to do, and Julio Iglesias on “Summer Wind,” “You Make Me Feel So Young” with Charles Aznavour, and gasp Bono on “I've Got You Under My Skin” don't quite match. It's also odd to have men singing together in this uneven, tandem sense – perhaps all ladies would have been a better balance instead. Fortunately, the smooth works with Luther Vandross on “The Lady Is a Tramp,” “Come Rain or Come Shine” with Gloria Estefan, and for Natalie Cole on “They Can't Take That Away From Me.” The breezy ballad “What Now My Love” makes room for Frank's light and Aretha Franklin's big notes while the crooning pace is just right alongside Barbra Streisand in “I've Got a Crush on You.” Carly Simon accompanies more mellow in “Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out to Dry/In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning,” and Anita Baker provides sway for “Witchcraft.” “New York, New York” with Tony Bennett feels a little too strained to start, but I'll be damn if it isn't still rousing as is “I've Got the World on a String” with Liza Minnelli. “All the Way/One For My Baby (And One More For The Road)” featuring Kenny G is the longest track here – almost twice as long as most of the other 12 songs. Admittedly, it's an odd choice to go with an instrumental pairing, too. But is this a brooding, befitting last call finale? Heck yeah. Granted, for die hard fans, these versions won't be as good as the originals. However, this session proves that the classics can swing in any era and that today's titans respect such standards – something I'm not so sure the millennial pop artists heavy on spectacle but light on true vocal talent are able to do. Thankfully, there's something for everyone here to pick and choose for their playlist rotation.

Frank Sinatra's Greatest Hits: Volume 2 – This 1972 Reprise compilation gathers some late sixties and early seventies suave, and of course starts with “My Way” – a somber but stirring indication of this session's more mature tone alongside “A Man Alone,” “Cycles,” and “Bein' Green.” Naturally, there's an air of soft, sweeping romance in “Love's Been Good to Me” and “I'm Not Afraid” as well as in the catchy covers of “Going Out of My Head” and George Harrison's “Something.” One of the longer songs of the 11 tracks here, “What's Now is Now” from the Watertown concept album still sounds fresh and swanky good. Though also quite fine, “Star!” feels a little bit too ritzy heyday and out of place both between two more serious tunes and in the set's overall melancholy theme. “The September of My Years” is a slightly earlier song, but a nonetheless fitting ode to wrap this swift but smooth 37 minutes. Yes, the bigger name staples are on the previous 1968 Frank Sinatra's Greatest Hits. However, those grossly uninformed who think Ol' Blue Eyes is nothing more than his fifties hepcat hip may be quite pleasantly surprised by these reflective measures, and Volume 2 matches its predecessor as a slower companion collection. Be it the soundtrack to an empty nest dinner for two or just some toe tapping mellow relaxation, older and wiser audiences will delight here.

Reprise: The Very Good Years – At 67 minutes, this 1991 single CD consolidation of the more extensive 4 disc The Reprise Collection is still relatively chronological and pretty all encompassing with expected Sinatra staples such as “Fly Me to the Moon,” “Strangers in the Night,” and “Love and Marriage,” plus live renditions of “I've Got You Under My Skin” and “The Lady Is a Tramp.” More swanky hits include “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “Luck Be a Lady,” and that ritzy Chicago ode “My Kind of Town.”The Last Dance” brings a whiff of earlier wartime suave while “Night and Day” and “The Way You Look Tonight” provide some cheek to cheek alongside “Summer Wind” and “All or Nothing at All.” “The Best Is Yet to Come” adds more breezy while we sing – or at least try to sing along with “That's Life” and “My Way.” There are only a few slow, softer tunes here such as “It Was a Very Good Year,” “Send in the Clowns,” and “Nancy (With the Laughing Face).” Great songs though they are, their melancholy tone may feel out of place compared to the otherwise hip majority present. That always swinging indicative written on the sleeve is indeed compiled here with much of what we've come to know and love from the fifties and sixties Frank heights. Naturally, this hour goes out with a showstopping “New York, New York,” and somehow all is made right with the world because the Yankees won, teehee. This session is both a fix with all the essentials and provides some uniqueness thanks to that live sprinkle – making for a great starter set to get you going down the rabbit hole for more.

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