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Frank Sinatra: Where are you? (Capitol 0777 7 91209 2 5)


Frank Sinatra - at his 50s peak - was, simply, one of the greatest voices of the 20th century. Particularly re ballads, rather than those swingers which (typically) comprised his hits during this era. Most who truly rate such, tend to put his work w/Nelson Riddle first...as should I, given that I (usually) much prefer jazz to string-heavy classicism in arrangements...

But...honesty should always come first. So, here & now, I declare my (unswerving) preference for the “corny” touch of Gordon Jenkins - at least, on this all-too-often forgotten gem - rather than Riddle’s Only the Lonely, usually considered the peak of Sinatra’s balladry.

Because, given his “status” as a born-again swinger, there’s just (occasionally) a hint of glibness in his phrasing on the latter...whereas here, amidst the most lushy simple/heartfelt traditional framing...he genuinely plumbs the depths. To be sure, that could (easily) be taken too far: I’m no fan of the Sinatra/Jenkins follow-up No one cares - despite having to order it in on a German pressing, so as to hear it - since it’s unrelievedly po-faced melodrama (unfortunately) - but..its predecessor is, simply, one of the very greatest albums of the period.

Now: remember...Tin Pan Alley was a truly stern taskmaster...and I didn’t (even) begin to grasp its possibilities, until I was in my late 30s. And, it was Frank - not jazz per se - who forced me to confront the (undoubted) fact that great art was actually possible, within its narrow embrace...

And this remains - arguably - his least diluted (and greatest) homage to that particular stream w/in American songwriting. Unlike Riddle’s work, however, there’s nary a hint of jazz in these arrangements - even on “Baby, won’t you please come home”...a jazz/blues ballad in itself... And yet, the result is savagely soulful...but, in a way that we younger listeners have (sadly) been “trained” to dismiss.

Now...we’ve all been moved by this kind of music - whether w/in classic Hollywood orchestrations, or some “corny” arrangement that genuinely nailed our souls...despite our “best” critical intentions. What I want to suggest, is that we stop pretending this didn’t happen - or that it was, somehow (and pathetically) “ironic” - and ask ourselves what real excellence means in this sphere. Because, when we do, this album will prove a lodestone.

Just listen to “Autumn Leaves”...one verse/the chorus, and it’s over - albeit it takes three minutes over same - and begin, with me, to understand that there are no (truly) bankrupt genres, except in “critical” retrospect...and that we - actually - need to try and understand excellence, wherever/whenever we find it...and not (merely) where we expect it to be...




John Henry Calvinist