Reviews

'Frank Sinatra: Concert Collection' The Master at Work, Captured Here

These live performances demonstrate Frank Sinatra's constant transformation; from the Jersey wiseguy monologues to singing that lays bare his soul, as though he’s shining a spotlight down a well.


Frank Sinatra

Frank Sinatra: Concert Collection

Label: Shout Factory!
US Release Date: 2010-11-02
UK Release Date: 2010-11-02
Artist website
Amazon
iTunes

You can probably guess what you’re getting with Frank Sinatra's Concert Collection. Imagine a seven-disc, $80 box set of Frank Sinatra’s TV concerts from 1965 on, and what comes to mind? The shows drip with lavish quantities of glitz and hokum and tuxedos. Sinatra’s masterpieces for Capitol Records -- “The Lady Is a Tramp”, “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”, “I Get a Kick Out of You” -- appear so often, you’ll find yourself fighting vainly the old ennui. The jokes are terrible, and the between-song patter is forced when it isn’t crass. Nearly every show is derailed by a ballad as boring as it is long; more than once that ballad is “The House I Live In”. (“A certain word: DEM-OC-RA-CY!”)

But then... in the middle of the previously unreleased Concert for the Americas (1982), Sinatra sits down with guitarist Tony Mottola to sing “Send in the Clowns” and 5,000 people hang on every note, apparently forgetting to breathe. During Sinatra and Friends (1977), also new to DVD, he shares a delightful “Oldest Established Floating Crap Game” with Dean Martin and baritone Robert Merrill. Elsewhere he does a thrilling “Pennies from Heaven” with Count Basie; his “Tramp” with Ella Fitzgerald swings magnificently.

In A Man and His Music (1965), the camera pulls in close for “Nancy”, an ode to his daughter, and you simply watch the master at work -- seemingly without effort, Sinatra exhales each line perfectly and turns the underwritten song into a universal drama of affection tinged with regret. To reassure everyone she’s OK, Nancy herself pops up in the 1966 Man and His Music, prancing through “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby” with her old man. Such are the vagaries of the showbiz heart.

Every Sinatra concert runs this gamut from sublime to ridiculous, though there’s more sublime stuff here than not. The most consistent program isn’t a concert at all; it’s a 2003 PBS compilation called Vintage Sinatra, a series of black and white clips from his ‘50s resurgence, on DVD for the first time. As in his TV specials, Sinatra sings straight to the camera, giving these clips the feel of early music videos. Wiggling, smoking, and smirking, he turns in a terifffffffffffically sexy “Kick Out of You”.

“One for My Baby” comes next, and Sinatra’s stark rendition -- also with smoldering cigarette -- reminds you that the guy was a recent Oscar-winner. Of course, if it’s garish Sinatra you crave, there’s no show more garish than Sinatra: The Main Event (1973). Sinatra plays Madison Square Garden from a boxing ring, Howard Cosell announces, and audience members dance to “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” while Walter Cronkite glares at them. Sinatra seems most at home in this setting; his jokes are still tasteless, but the hometown audience laps everything up and the singer has a ball. (“Especially THE PEOPLE -- that’s America to me!”)

In Visions of Jazz, critic Gary Giddins writes, “[Sinatra’s] voice is transformed [in song], its extraordinary clarity and directness sharpened for expressive purpose, so that even the residual Hoboken inflections achieve eloquence.” These live performances demonstrate that transformation over and over, as the Jersey wiseguy monologues give way to singing that lays bare Sinatra’s soul, as though he’s shining a spotlight down a well. No other singer has so effectively split the difference between expressive artistry and unmannered clarity. When he sings with the operatic Merrill in Sinatra and Friends, Sinatra comes off as plainspoken, a regular joe without affect. When, during the same program, he duets with twangy John Denver, Sinatra might as well be Robert Merrill. His delivery hasn’t changed, but the contrast shows how he prized such classical virtues as vowel shaping, breath control, and subtly-deployed vibrato.

As he performs, Sinatra introduces each of his songs with the methodical pleasure of a child showing off his toys to company -- he names not just the composers but the arrangers, delighting in his unequaled collection of Riddles, Costas, and Joneses. You can tell when he latches onto a song, because he tells you, and then it never escapes his grasp. “My Kind of Town” is the most performed song here, but “Come Rain or Come Shine” is his favorite, and George Harrison’s “Something” is “the greatest love song of the last 50 or 100 years”. (Too bad you can’t say the same for its Nelson Riddle arrangement.)

Amid these stalwarts, there are less-performed, unexpected pleasures: the Mangione-smooth “L.A. Is My Lady”, the underrated folk-philosophy-with-cigarette “Cycles”, the towering torch inferno “Angel Eyes”. When you see Sinatra create, you peer through a window into what makes songs -- and art, and literature, and mature adult psyches -- tick.

8
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Books

Political Cartoonist Art Young Was an Aficionado of all Things Infernal

Fantagraphics' new edition of Inferno takes Art Young's original Depression-era critique to the Trump Whitehouse -- and then drags it all to Hell.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

OK Go's Emotional New Ballad, "All Together Now", Inspired by Singer's Bout with COVID-19

Damian Kulash, lead singer for OK Go discusses his recent bout with COVID-19, how it impacted his family, and the band's latest pop delight, "All Together Now", as part of our Love in the Time of Coronavirus series.

Books

The Rules Don't Apply to These Nonconformist Novelists

Ian Haydn Smith's succinct biographies in Cult Writers: 50 Nonconformist Novelists You Need to Know entice even seasoned bibliophiles.

Music

Siren Songs' Merideth Kaye Clark and Jenn Grinels Debut As a Folk Duo (album stream + interview)

Best friends and longtime musical collaborators Merideth Kaye Clark and Jenn Grinels team up as Siren Songs for the uplifting folk of their eponymous LP.

Music

Buzzcocks' 1993 Comeback 'Trade Test Transmissions' Showed Punk's Great Survivors' Consistency

PopMatters' appraisal of Buzzcocks continues with the band's proper comeback LP, Trade Test Transmissions, now reissued on Cherry Red Records' new box-set, Sell You Everything.

Music

Archie Shepp, Raw Poetic, and Damu the Fudgemunk Enlighten and Enliven with 'Ocean Bridges'

Ocean Bridges is proof that genre crossovers can sound organic, and that the term "crossover" doesn't have to come loaded with gimmicky connotations. Maybe we're headed for a world in which genres are so fluid that the term is dropped altogether from the cultural lexicon.

Books

Claude McKay's 'Romance in Marseille' Is Ahead of Its Time

Claude McKay's Romance in Marseille -- only recently published -- pushes boundaries on sexuality, disability, identity -- all in gorgeous poetic prose.

Music

Christine Ott Brings the Ondes Martenot to New Heights with the Mesmerizing 'Chimères'

France's Christine Ott, known for her work as an orchestral musician and film composer, has created a unique new solo album, Chimères, that spotlights an obscure instrument.

Music

Man Alive! Is a Continued Display of the Grimy-Yet-Refined Magnetism of King Krule

Following The OOZ and its accolades, King Krule crafts a similarly hazy gem with Man Alive! that digs into his distinct aesthetic rather than forges new ground.

Books

The Kinks and Their Bad-Mannered English Decency

Mark Doyles biography of the Kinks might complement a seminar in British culture. Its tone and research prove its intent to articulate social critique through music for the masses.

Music

ONO Confronts American Racial Oppression with the Incendiary 'Red Summer'

Decades after their initial formation, legendary experimentalists ONO have made an album that's topical, vital, uncomfortable, and cathartic. Red Summer is an essential documentation of the ugliness and oppression of the United States.

Film

Silent Women Filmmakers No Longer So Silent: Alice Guy Blaché and Julia Crawford Ivers

The works of silent filmmakers Alice Guy Blaché and Julia Crawford Ivers were at risk of being forever lost. Kino Lorber offers their works on Blu-Ray. Three cheers for film historians and film restoration.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.