FRANK SINATRA Frank Sinatra Sings For Only The Lonely (Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab)
Sinatra and his arranger Nelson Riddle might between them be responsible for giving the album an identity and artistic purpose over and above being merely a collection of songs, but sometimes it seems as though their blinkered thematic approach over-eggs things a bit. Take “Frank Sinatra Sings For Only The Lonely” f’rinstance. It’s close to an hour’s worth of alcohol-soaked gloom and despondency, desperately in need of variety. There are no bright, snappy numbers here, just the lugubrious, molasses-slow, velvet-upholstered misery of “Only The Lonely” and, well, pretty much everything else here. That Frank’s performances are definitive is a given; likewise Riddle’s charts are always sensitive and supportive. But really, at an album’s length (and a long album, at that) it’s a bitter pill.
There’s an unpleasant suggestion of misogyny hanging over “Blues In The Night” (even if it was his mama who done told him about how a woman’s a two-face), and the acoustic guitar that opens “Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out To Dry” offers only the briefest ray of sunshine in this otherwise overcast day. The finely modulated drama of “Ebb Tide” seems a bit adrift here thematically, but then, suddenly, the tinkling of a barroom piano announces “One For My Baby (And One More For The Road)”, which towers aching head and hunched shoulders above everything else gathered here. Woozy and intimate, it ends this downbeat album on an unexpectedly redemptive note.
Mobile Fidelity’s shiny new vinyl edition of “Frank Sinatra Sings For Only The Lonely” is not one of the company’s best efforts. My copy was distractingly ticky in places, and the sides’ long playing times lower the fidelity potential.
FRANK SINATRA Nice ‘N’ Easy (Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab)
Wrongheaded as it seems for me to criticise an album for being monotonously downbeat, “Nice ‘N’ Easy” is closer to what I would’ve expected from a Frank Sinatra record than “Frank Sinatra Sings For Only The Lonely “ was. Barring the title track, a new composition, the album consists of big, brassy, bold, fingerpopping remakes of material Frank had recorded in earlier decades. There’s variety, invention, wit, style and class on show here, all wrapped around songs that were already standards by the time of these 1960 recordings, arranged to perfection by Nelson Riddle. Even though these are nominally ballads, there’s still space for high drama in the orchestrations without spoiling the mood, “How Deep Is The Ocean?” being a prime example, and it’s sobering to discover that “Try A Little Tenderness” had an existence prior to Otis Redding’s soul-soaked interpretation.
Mobile Fidelity have done a better job of bringing “Nice ‘N’ Easy” to audiophile-quality vinyl than they managed with “Frank Sinatra Sings For Only The Lonely”, with none of the pressing defects that marred the latter (or my copy of it, at least) and shorter sides heightening the fi. Still, what makes “Nice ‘N’ Easy” what it is is Frank doing what Frank does, and doing it pretty well.
FRANK SINATRA Sinatra At The Sands (Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab)
This, barely believably Sinatra’s first live album, originally released in 1966, is sumptuous. Admittedly, it’s a daffy, showbizzy way to present a legend in concert: there are lengthy stretches when Frank does something other than sing, for example the extended, borderline Woody Allen-esque monologue “The Tea Break”, or moments when he leaves the stage to the orchestra. Yet if it could justifiably be accused of bordering on cheesy cabaret (it was recorded in a Vegas hotel, after all), it’s cheesy cabaret of the absolute highest order, where Quincy Jones conducts and Count Basie brings the house band.
For all its hokey jokeyness it arguably paints a more all-encompassing picture of Sinatra the all-round entertainer than any one of the exquisitely assembled concept albums from his Capitol prime: here he swings through the standards (“Come Fly With Me”, “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”, “I’ve Got A Crush On You”, “Fly Me To The Moon”, “You Make Me Feel So Young”, “Get Me To The Church On Time”, “My Kind Of Town”) and props up the piano bar (“One For My Baby”, “Angel Eyes”). The emotional core of the album, though, given that its creator decries rumours of his recent 50th birthday as “a dirty Communist lie”, are the autumnal ballads “September Of My Years” and “It Was A Very Good Year”. Heretical as it might be to claim them as definitive, when I later obtained the original studio recordings of these songs I found them something of an anti-climax compared with these readings. Throughout “Sinatra At The Sands” there’s a casualness to his phrasing, relaxed but not sloppy, and the recording is atmospheric right down to the distant sounds of dining.
Mobile Fidelity’s reissue has an unobtrusive opulence typical of the company’s good work, hewn from lovely thick cardboard and lovely thick vinyl. If it sounds a bit glitzy and brash that’s probably because glitzy and brash is what it is.
FRANK SINATRA Come Dance With Me (Capitol)
A self-explanatory concept album, “Come Dance With Me” contains dance music of the old style, recorded at a time when dancing was arguably the only socially sanctioned medium for public displays of affection. As the back cover succinctly summarises, “In the spotlight: Frank Sinatra. On the bandstand: Billy May. The program: vocals they dance”. As indeed they do, as Sinatra indelibly stamps his ownership on a dozen standards, including “I Could Have Danced All Night” and “Cheek To Cheek”. However, for me May’s orchestrations are bright to the point of brashness. They’re undeniably infused with a foot-tapping mischievousness, but easygoing they are not, making me wonder what Sinatra’s regular collaborator in rhythm Nelson Riddle would have made of this material. It’s all a bit relentless, with no let up until “The Last Dance” finally offers some respite.
The currently available vinyl version of “Come Dance With Me” is part of EMI’s generally unimpressive “From The Capitol Vaults” reissue series, and this example is certainly not of the “Audiophile Quality” boasted of by the cover sticker, especially compared with Mobile Fidelity’s Sinatra reissues, which generally are. The “faithfully restored” inner sleeve is mildly amusing, though, with one side extolling the sonic virtues of Capitol recordings (back when they actually cared about that kind of thing), the other advertising albums rather less likely to receive vinyl reissues, including works by Tennessee Ernie Ford and the Hollywood Bowl Symphony Orchestra. Unfortunately, it also lists Sinatra’s “Nice ‘N’ Easy”, which, given that it followed “Come Dance With Me” into record shops 18 months later, is unlikely to have featured on the latter’s original inner sleeve.