Saturday, May 6, 2017

CD Odyssey Disc 1001: Frank Sinatra

This weekend I got a bit out of hand on the music purchasing front. I’ve recently discovered a whole bunch of new (to me) bands and having the day off yesterday I hit the local record store with a vengeance. I’ll talk about those albums when I roll them, but here’s a teaser:
·         Imelda May “Life Love Flesh Blood”
·         Jens Lekman “Night Falls Over Kortedala”
·         Avett Brothers “I and Love and You” and “Emotionalism”
·         The Mountain Goats “Beat the Champ” and “The Sunset Tree”
·         She and Him “Volume Two”
·         Johnny Flynn “Sillion”

I listened to most last night and I’m looking forward to getting to know them all a lot better in the days, months and years to come.

This next review is an album I’ve already known for many years.

Disc 1001 is…Frank Sinatra’s Greatest Hits
Artist: Frank Sinatra

Year of Release: 1968 but featuring music from 1957-1967

What’s up with the Cover? The second Giant Head cover in a row! This one also has that sixties practice of listing all the songs on the front cover. I prefer them on the back, but I guess there was a bit of extra space, despite the chunk of real estate being claimed by Frank’s Giant Head.

How I Came To Know It: Back in the mid-nineties I went through a brief but torrid affair with swing music, and during that time I bought a bunch of Frank Sinatra albums, including this one.

How It Stacks Up:  Greatest Hits albums don’t stack up.

Ratings: Greatest Hits albums also don’t get rated. If you’ve been carefully following along for the past 1,000 reviews you will know this. If you’re here for the first time, now you know.

When I got into swing twenty years ago, it didn’t take me long to realize that Frank was the king and everyone else toils in his shadow. Hearing this greatest hits record, it is not hard to see why. Sinatra is the personification of cool, meandering his way through each song like he’s out for a stroll in a country garden.

A big part of this is Frank’s uncanny phrasing and timing. He can slide on or off the beat with ease, and he has an innate understanding of just when to do it. He holds a note a fraction of a second longer, then steps into a line just a bit early. The experience is like a Viennese waltz, twirling through the room, with Frank leading, drawing your ears to just the right note at just the right time.

Sinatra is from a generation where singers mostly didn’t write their own songs, but you would never know it when you hear him sing them. When Sinatra tells you: “the summer wind came blowin’ in, from across the sea” it is his wind and his alone. We’re just lucky he’s invited us into the resort so we can enjoy it with him.

And you can enjoy it with him! Despite Frank’s vocal prowess, he sings in a way that makes you feel like you can sing along. Not as good as Frank obviously, but like most good pop hit, these songs encourage you to jump in and participate.

Being the king and all, Frank is able to get the best studio musicians of his day and it shows. The band backing him up on these songs is sublime, playing with a grace and ease that is the perfect match to Frank’s laid back sound.

This isn’t music that is going to explore a lot of complex issues, or dig deep emotionally; the closest Sinatra comes here is probably “That’s Life” where he reminds us that whether you’re on a streak of good luck or bad luck, you gotta just roll with it. Chill out and have a martini or two and don’t take it personal.

This album was originally released on vinyl and the running length (a skinny 34 minutes) is a reminder that there was only so much space back in the day. Nowadays a Sinatra compilation would be easily over an hour and I’m not sure all those extra songs would make it better. “Greatest Hits” has 12 carefully curated songs that show various sides of Sinatra – playful, romantic or rakish – and leaves you wanting more.

About a month ago I went on a journey through around 15 of Sinatra’s most famous studio albums to see which ones I was going to get. While there were plenty of excellent options I realized that my infatuation with sixties swing has gone a little dormant. When I do want a shot of it, this Greatest Hits package will give me the fix I need.

Best tracks: Summer Wind, It Was a Very Good Year, Somethin’ Stupid, That’s Life, This Town

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