Written by General Jabbo
“Don’t you love the sound of the big band?” an exuberant Frank Sinatra asked his audience in a spirited version of “Pennies From Heaven” recorded in 1987 at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas. This recording is one of the many highlights of Frank Sinatra – Best of Vegas.
Best of Vegas collects songs from four of the five shows included in the essential box, Sinatra – Vegas, originally released in 2006 and covers a 26-year time period between 1961 and 1987. Tracks from the 1978 Caesar’s Palace show, originally included as a DVD in Sinatra – Vegas, are conspicuous in their absence from this collection. They’d have made a welcome addition, as they are currently unavailable commercially on CD.
What is included though is prime Sinatra, from his cocky, swinging Rat Pack era to a more humble, older Sinatra, basking in the glow of the songs and their arrangements. The CD is presented roughly in chronological order, beginning with the 1961 tracks and finishing with the 1987 tracks, save for “Theme From New York, New York,” which is taken from the 1982 Caesar’s Palace show.
Highlights of the 1961 set include a stunning “Moonlight in Vermont,” which Sinatra keeps from getting too serious by making an off-color comment toward the end. Similarly, he assures the crowd during a swinging “The Lady is a Tramp” that “smuck” isn’t dirty the way he says it. Sinatra is on top of his game here in voice and attitude and he knows it.
Next up are songs from the 1966 run at the Sands Hotel with Count Basie and his Orchestra conducted by Quincy Jones. When Sinatra tells the crowd during a killer “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” that they were “going to take this here building and move it three feet that way – now” it really seems as if he and the band might be able to pull it off. Equally stirring are the versions of “Fly Me to the Moon (In Other Words)” and “Luck Be A Lady,” also from 1966. Sinatra’s monologue also comes from this show and he’s in rare form, riffing on Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., alcohol and the Catholic Church. It’s Sinatra at his irreverent best.
We jump to 1982 for the next set of songs, which includes some of the oldest material on the disc, including “Without a Song” from the Tommy Dorsey era, with the original arrangement no less, and “All or Nothing At All” from Sinatra’s days with Harry James with a then-new arrangement by Nelson Riddle. Sinatra’s voice is older, but still strong in this set and offers maturity not possible in the 1961 set.
The three songs from 1987 show that even into his ’70s, Sinatra still could deliver live. The highlight of the show and one of the highlights of the disc is the stark rendering of the classic saloon song, “Angel Eyes.” Sinatra’s older voice gives the song an authenticity that might be lost on younger singers. The listener gets the impression he lived this song
The good and bad thing about Best of Vegas is it leaves the listener wanting more. That’s the idea of course, as people will want to pick up the Vegas box after hearing this. The other issue is that while Sinatra’s voice sounds fine throughout, it does sound different as the CD advances to the ’80s material. Still, the performances are all top notch and listeners wanting a taste of the adult-oriented Vegas Sinatra knew was all about would do well to start with this CD.