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Thursday, April 02, 2015

Giving Voice

From the Vault Dept.: A fairly straightforward piece from a few years back wherein I reveal my oddball relationship with Sinatra recordings, digging, as I do, his youthful Dorsey stuff over much of the (considerably) later recordings – although his album “Only the Lonely” remains one of the best things ever recorded by anyone.


TEN YEARS AGO, Pete Hamill came out with a book titled Why Sinatra Matters, a slim volume that cut through the singer’s posthumous hagiography and returned us to the Voice. Not surprisingly, Hamill points to Sinatra’s early-50s recordings as the singer’s best. To my ears, what I term the “ring-a-ding-ding” period is where I lose interest. So it’s the late-Columbia and early-Capitol stuff that I yank from the shelf to remind myself how good even mediocre songs can sound when sung by a master.

Here’s a further confession, and I know I might lose you here. I like the Dorsey recordings, too. I think of them as showcasing a different singer: an ambitious kid still trying to be a tenor, honing his instrument into spectacular form.

The new Sony Legacy four-disc set starts with Sinatra’s very first records with the Harry James orchestra, and switches, on disc one, to a generous sampling of those Dorsey sides, finishing with a couple of the singer’s breakout recordings with Axel Stordahl at the podium. It’s a comprehensive and enjoyable study of a singer in progress, and by the time you reach disc two, covering 1943-49, we’re well on the way to Sinatra’s vocal maturity.

There’s a different twist to the last two discs. For CD 3, subtitled “The Great American Songbook: 1943-1947,” we get early versions of “It Had to Be You,” “All of Me,” “I Get a Kick Out of You” and “One for My Baby,” all of which Sinatra re-recorded, usually quite differently. Disc four, which takes us to 1952, is styled as a preview of the Capitol sound, and is well stocked with splendid orchestrations by Stordahl, along with contributions by the unsung George Siravo, among others.

The attractive package is sized so as not to fit alongside anything else in your collection, so it demands a place of its own. But that’s okay: There’s a handsome hardcover book accompanying the set that includes essays by Will Friedwald and producers Didier C. Deutsch and Charles L. Granata.

Of the 80 songs – a somewhat short program for four CDs – eleven are newly issued airchecks alongside a couple of hitherto unreleased alternate takes. The discography sports appropriate recording date-matrix number-timing info, but is short on orchestra personnel.

The remastered sound is terrific, offering superior versions of the tracks with which I’m already familiar, and the newly released material appeals to the completist in me. But I doubt I’ll ever be a Sinatra completist, so this set and the Capitol best-of set are more than satisfactory.

Frank Sinatra – A Voice in Time: 1939-1952
Sony Legacy

Metroland Magazine, 22 November 2007

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