The Concord Music Group and the Sinatra Family have been re-releasing the Reprise Label Frank Sinatra catalogue in recent years. The latest entry is his 1963 album, The Concert Sinatra, which now returns in a pristine, remastered form.
The title is somewhat misleading as it refers to a concept rather than an actual concert album. Arranger and conductor Nelson Riddle gathered a large orchestra in the recording studio in order to create a concert sound and experience. While his flourishes on a number of the songs were a bit much, it remains one of the strongest and most pleasurable albums of Sinatra’s career.
The original album contained only eight tracks, four of which were co-written by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein. Two more were composed by Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. Most are show tunes that formed the core of many of Sinatra’s albums during the 1960s. He was above all an interpreter of songs, and this type of material was made for him.
While the record produced no hit singles, “I Have Dreamed” was probably the most popular track at the time of its release. It was from 1951’s The King And I, and Sinatra gets the phrasing just right with a swinging performance.
Sinatra had worked as a conductor for Peggy Lee during 1957 and one of the songs they recorded together was “My Heart Stood Still.” Here, he records his own version that builds slowly as the tempo and vocals increase throughout.
“Lost In The Stars” was the title song of a 1949 Broadway musical and it was a fine example of Riddle’s arranging ability that made clear why Sinatra returned to him again and again.
Two songs from the Great American Songbook form the center of the album. “Ol’ Man River” remains the album’s most sophisticated track, as he gets the phrasing and tone perfectly. Sinatra recorded “You’ll Never Walk Alone” in 1945 and then didn’t sing the song again for 18 years. He re-interprets it here as a type of lullaby with an emotional performance.
“Bewitched” was from the early 1940s musical Pal Joey, and Sinatra gave it a breezy interpretation on this album. “This Nearly Was Mine” featured his voicing recorded within the orchestration, and “Soliloquy” was a rambling eight-minute track that remained a part of his stage act until the end of his life.
Two bonus tracks appear on the release. In late 1962, Governor Pat Brown asked Sinatra to create a new song for the state of California. He approached songwriters James Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn and the result was “California.” It was recorded during the session for the album but pulled from the song line-up at the last minute. It was distributed to attendees at a state function as a limited 45 rpm single with a special cover. Now, it returns to the album for which it was recorded.
His version of “America The Beautiful” was recorded at about the same time and while it was a spectacular rendition, the second chorus with a 24-voice choir makes it a little out of place.
The Concert Sinatra remains an essential listen for any fan of the chairman of the board or popular music. It’s nice to have the album back in circulation.