There are any number of Frank Sinatra Christmas albums in circulation, but Christmas with Sinatra and Friends ranks among the best. The album culls eight Sinatra tracks from his days with the Reprise label and then adds songs by Mel Torme, Rosemary Clooney, Ray Charles & Betty Carter, and Tony Bennett with Bill Evans to make an even dozen holiday treats.
This is a Christmas album from a different era. It is simple and has no gimmicks. The focus is always on the vocals and songs.
I tend to immerse myself in rock ‘n’ roll most of the time and forget what a smooth vocalist Frank Sinatra was during his long and storied career. These Christmas tracks, while only the tip of the iceberg in so far as his vast catalog is concerned, is representative of his style and talent.
Sinatra was probably the best interpreter of pop songs in music history and he made it all seem so effortless. He keeps it simple with “An Old Fashioned Christmas” with the emphasis upon the beauty of the lyrics. “Christmas Memories” is reflective in nature while the old classic “The Little Drummer Boy” is about as reverent as he has ever sounded. He even manages to make the over recorded “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” sound fresh. If you want the smooth Sinatra, there is the standard “I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day.”
So what do his friends add to the album? The best track is “A Child Is Born” by Tony Bennett with jazz pianist Bill Evans. They are a good combination and Bennett’s vocal style fits well with that of Sinatra. Mel Torme wrote “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire)” when he was twenty years old and it became a big hit for Nat King Cole. Since that time it has become one of the most recorded Christmas songs and it’s nice to hear Torme singing his own creation.
I can take or leave Rosemary Clooney’s version of “White Christmas” as it has been done so often and many times better. If you want a different type of holiday song then “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” by Ray Charles and Betty Carter, is the one for you. Their vocal interplay handles the clever lyrics just right and is sure to spice up any holiday season.
Christmas with Sinatra and Friends takes me back to the days of my parents and even grandparents and at Christmas time that is not a bad place to be.