Concord Music Group has recently issued a pair of releases aimed at lovers of the Great American Songbook. Frank Sinatra’s 1963 The Concert Sinatra has undergone a dramatic remixing and restoration process. The new Tony Bennett compilation Isn’t It Romantic? pulls fifteen love songs from four previously released albums. These two classic crooner sets differ wildly in approach. Serious Sinatra fans won’t want to miss his lushly orchestrated, lavish production. The Bennett sampler, all material readily available on more complete releases, will appeal mainly to casual fans.
As explained by Frank Sinatra Jr. in the new liner notes for The Concert Sinatra, an unusual tactic was used in recording the album. To combat the limitations inherent in recording studios of the era, the music was recorded on a motion picture scoring stage. In order to capture the full orchestra on multiple tracks, the recording was made on numerous synchronized 35mm magnetic film recorders. For the first time since the original mixing sessions, all these reels were used in the restoration of the album. The result is a completely new mix, presenting all parts of the original score for the first time.
The sound of the album is massive, with the orchestra ebbing and flowing appropriately. Nearly every song comes across as a showstopper. From the opening “I Have Dreamed” to the concluding “Soliloquy,” Sinatra’s soaring vocals are impeccable throughout The Concert Sinatra. Two bonus tracks have been included, each one fitting in perfectly. “California,” the first bonus, was originally issued as a promotional single only, given away at a function held by then-governor of California Edmund G. Brown. The other bonus is “America, the Beautiful,” which features backing by a 24-voice choir. The album’s original liner notes are reprinted, along with new track-by-track comments from Sinatra Jr.
Isn’t It Romantic? is similar to the 2011 Bennett compilation The Best of the Improv Recordings. In fact, a half dozen of the tunes are lazily repeated from that set. This compilation draws from four mid-‘70s albums, Together Again, Sings the Rodgers & Hart Songbook, Life is Beautiful, and The Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Album. Concord’s superb The Complete Improv Recordings contains complete versions of three of those four albums. The remaining one, The Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Album, was reissued by Concord on its own, as well as part of The Complete Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Recordings. In other words, there are several more comprehensive options for obtaining this material.
As it is, Isn’t It Romantic? is a well-chosen collection of songs, assuming you don’t already own one of the aforementioned releases. The Bill Evans collaborations are sublimely intimate, with just Evans’ piano accompanying Bennett’s vocals. Wayne Wright’s guitar graces the Rodgers & Hart Songbook material, delicately enhancing “Lover” and “My Romance.” Only two songs are included from the more elaborately orchestrated Life Is Beautiful: that album’s title tune (which closes Isn’t It Romantic?) and “As Time Goes By.”
Concord continues to do right by these legendary vocalists, with a nice roster of Sinatra and Bennett reissues to their credit. Let’s hope for more complete album reissues like The Concert Sinatra and less recycled compilations like Isn’t It Romantic? for the future.