The combination of Frank Sinatra and Nelson Riddle was a magical one. Frank was in a bit of a slump in his career when he and Riddle teamed up, and the musical triumphs they made together remain as compelling as ever. Sinatra was in a very difficult transitory phase in his career when he and Nelson Riddle got together. He was coming out of his “bobby-soxer” era, and moving into what would become his defining moments as a vocalist. But nobody knew this at the time. There are literally hundreds of singers who were teen idols, but were unable to graduate to the next level.
With the very obvious help and advice from Riddle, Sinatra became much more than a teen sensation. He became a legend. The newly remastered The Concert Sinatra is live recording from 1963, and contains two bonus tracks which were not included on the original LP. Taken together, the ten tracks that make up this CD are yet another example of why Frank Sinatra remains such a towering figure in American music.
Simply put, Frank Sinatra did not simply “sing” songs, he inhabited them. I am reminded of this over and over when I listen to his music. In ways that people easily forget, he used his voice as an instrument the way his idol Bing Crosby did, or more to the point, the way a rock hero such as Jimi Hendrix used his guitar. We sometimes forget about these things with “The Chairman of the Board” because his celebrity became overwhelming. But while recently reading James Kaplan’s excellent Sinatra biography The Voice – I was reminded of the fact that Frank took his music extremely seriously.
Listening to the song selection and performances on The Concert Sinatra, one is offered a wonderful reminder of just how fantastic a vocalist Frank Sinatra was. He actually (surprisingly enough) was in his prime at the time of this recording. The Rat Pack were at full tilt in 1963, and they had the British Invasion nipping at their heels.
It was a generational thing, and not something I care to comment on much – other than to say that Sinatra actually wasn’t really “your parent’s music.” His songs may have been in a different style than those of Lennon-McCartney – but in terms of excellence? I cannot imagine anyone saying that Sinatra and The Beatles were not equals as giants of 20th century music.
To pick out a couple of favorites from this set is not really an easy task – because the whole concert is great. But for the sake of illustration I will mention that Frank’s version of “Old Man River” is pretty noteworthy, as is his version of “Bewitched.”
What was actually quite surprising to me was the fact that “America The Beautiful” was left off of the original LP. We have heard countless artists attempt this song, and it is almost like a hymn. And, unfortunately or not, the song is so familiar that one wonders what any singer can actually add to it.
There is something about hearing that amazing, one-of-a kind voice of Frank Sinatra singing this song that delivers an element that I had never really noticed before. He makes you feel the sentiments. No matter what the song, he put his absolute heart and soul into it – and you certainly hear this in “America, The Beautiful.”
Besides the original liner notes, written by Raymond V. Pepe, there are some fascinating new comments made by Frank Sinatra Jr. His insights into his father’s music are both compelling, and quite illuminating. Although at first glance, The Concert Sinatra may seem like “just” another Frank Sinatra reissue, it is much more. For one thing, hearing him in a live context – with no room for error is pretty great. But knowing his history, and reading the liner notes of his son about each track make this package something truly special.
I have made it quite clear that I am a Frank Sinatra fan, but I think The Concert Sinatra will appeal to a much wider base of people than just us fans. It is my contention that he was at the top of his game in 1963, and was paired with the greatest collaborator he ever had with Nelson Riddle.
In short, The Concert Sinatra represents some of the finest music either of these men ever produced. It is available through a number of sources, including the very fine Concord Music Group – whose site is worth checking out for this, and many other great Sinatra recordings.