MAY 1999 | VOL. 3, NO. 5


FEATURE | Remastered Frank Sinatra

ALSO | Family Values Tour '98

LAST | Platypus and Eve 6


Sound Bites
Grading from A-F

The musical landscape is differently changing as proven by this album from Korn's '98 Tour de Force. Artists are combining and melding hip-hop, hard core and even pop into a new sound. A sound of bottom heavy rhythms augmented by turntable and guitar sound effects. Korn stands as the leader of this mini musical revolution and powerful live versions of "Freak On A Leash" and "Got the Life" prove why.

Joining Korn on the album are the tour mates, each with their own unique sound. Limp Bizkit mixes it up with high energy covers of George Michael's "Faith" and House of Pain's "Jump Around". Ice Cube joins the fray with his old school gangsta rap, relying heavily on his days with N.W.A. The album is fleshed out with performances by the German goth band Rammstein, Incubus and electronics-heavy Orgy. B

- Kevin Ridolfi
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Masterful Performance

Wee Small Hours (Remastered)

Come Dance With Me (Remastered)
(Capitol Records)
Rating: A


I was recently compelled to watch the Corey Haim/Feldman thriller "License to Drive" on cable. Needless to say, after this second viewing, I stumbled upon a few surprises. One is that Haim's love interest, Mercedes, is played by a blossoming Heather Graham. The second has to do with music. Yes, the theme song by Billy Ocean dates the film, but there's more: As the boys cruise downtown in their borrowed jalopy, they fiddle through some cassettes only to find Frank Sinatra. And they did not want to hear it. That said, they end up listening to "Saturday Night (is the Loneliest Night Of The Week)" from the breakthrough "Come Dance With Me" album. Feldman lurches over and says disgustedly, "This is what my grandfather listens too!"

Not anymore. By now, lounge and swing are back in full force. Just look at the Gap khaki commercials playing Louis Prima, or listen to Big Bad Voodoo Daddies or the Brian Setzer Orchestra on the radio. Movies like "Swingers" have generated a whole cult of lounge lizards devoted to the Rat Pack. And with Frank Sinatra's death last year, the music and the life could not be more apparent. Knowing that Generation X has embarked on a rediscovery of those ring-a-ding days, Capitol and Reprise records - labels that both recorded with Frank - have joined forces for the first time to rerelease eighteen of his vintage albums, all 20-bit digitally remastered from original recordings.

Among the titles rereleased are two of his most profound: 1955's "In the Wee Small Hours" and 1959's "Come Dance With Me", both from EMI/Capitol. Of course, there is a commercial motivation to remaster the tapes deriving from the Chairman's death, but these albums are certainly a much fonder way to remember Frank than his Duets series with the likes of Kenny G and Jon Secada.

By 1955, Frank Sinatra was already in his first reincarnation. He was no longer Tommy Dorsey's or Harry James's boy-singer/bobby-socks teen idol and no longer suffering voice problems. (Aside: If you watch The Godfather, crooner Johnny Fontaine goes to Don Corleone and weeps pathetically about how he's lost his voice and how he'll never sing again.) Frank was a swinging bachelor in love with Ava Gardner. It was when their relationship soured that he found himself in studio sessions recording In the Wee Small Hours. Here he pours his misery onto the album, with tracks entitled "Glad to be Unhappy," "I Get Along Without You Very Well," and "When Your Lover Has Gone." The album is a very personal experience as each line is sung with genuine heartache. Yet, being Frank, he does not come off as a pathetic loser. His voice remains dignified, honest, never crackling from the emotion. Working with one of his all-time favorite conductors/arrangers, Nelson Riddle, Sinatra treats his vocals as just another jazz instrument. And Riddle himself thinks along those same lines, to devastating effect. Listen to the opening of "Glad to be Unhappy":

...Look at yourself/do you still believe the rumor/that love is simply grand/Since you took it right on the chin/you have lost that bright toothpaste grin/Fools rush in/so here I am/very glad to be unhappy...

The variation of notes is an acrobatic feat for the vocalist. There is no assistance from a string section. Just the opening chord of a piano and the afterthought of a glockenspiel. And Sinatra hits each phrase with remarkable precision. When the remaining orchestra does join in, his voice simply blends into the greater scheme. "In the Wee Small Hours" as a tribute to love lost became an idea adopted several times over throughout popular music. The Reverend Al Green did as much for "Let's Stay Together" and Lenny Kravitz followed suit after his break with Lisa Bonet. Perhaps the greatest achievement of this album, however, comes from it's very thematic nature.

"In the Wee Small Hours" marks the first ever "concept album." At the time, an album's purpose was to fit as many singles as possible without necessarily any rhyme or reason. Sinatra thought a series of interconnected ideas would resonate better with the public. And it did. And no record by a serious artist would ever be the same.

Four years later, Frank was back to his old self, almost over Ava Gardner, still starring in motion pictures, and palling around with Sammy and Dean and, sometimes, Peter and Joey. Las Vegas was his playground. And the mood could not have been better captured than in 1959's "Come Dance With Me". The original album contains not a single slow song. From the opening blast of brass of the title song to "This Song is You," the beat is unceasing, the mood is vibrant, a celebration of life - a mirror-reflection of his larger than life persona. As conductor and arranger, Billy May is the anti-Nelson Riddle. Far from the perfectionist calculations of the latter, May's work is frenzied, the energy unbridled. It might have been disastrous for May to have arranged In the Wee Small Hours, but for the purposes of this recording, it could not have been more appropriate.

Admittedly, songs like "I Could Have Danced All Night" and "Day In-Day Out" now seem tiresome. Still, other numbers like "Cheek to Cheek," while tiresome even in 1959, are given new life by his inimitable vocals. Imagining what it is like to hear these feverish compositions for the first time, it is not surprising to see how "Come Dance With Me" became one of his most successful albums, winning the Grammy award for Album of the Year and remaining in the charts for the next two years.

Capitol Records has also generously added four additional tracks, some being rarities. Two of the songs, "Nothing in Common" and "How Are Ya' Fixed For Love," are duets with Keely Smith. It is almost disarming to hear her smooth Virginian vocals alongside those of the suave Sinatra as opposed to her typical duets with the raspy voice of her rapscallion husband, Louis Prima.

Of the eighteen albums to be rereleased, "In the Wee Small Hours" and "Come Dance With Me" offer the starkest contrast in Sinatra's sometimes manic, sometimes depressed way of living. And whether he is down in the dumps singing "Last Night When We Were In Love" or giddy with glee crooning "Something's Gotta Give," (so giddy he gets caught up in the moment and yells, "C'mon, let's tear it up!") the performance is never short of masterful.


VICTORINO MATUS , the associate editor of The Weekly Standard, is a contributing writer for Renaissance Magazine.

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