Richard Nisley

Sinatra Review–Three of his best from the Capitol years
Pop Culture Released - Feb 29, 2020
(1) DOUBLE EP: SONGS FOR YOUNG LOVERS (January 1954) and SWING EASY (August 1954)

The two EPs that comprise this CD–SONGS FOR YOUNG LOVERS and SWING EASY–represent a number of firsts: they were the first albums Sinatra recorded for his new label, Capitol Records; it was the first time Sinatra worked with arranger Nelson Riddle; and it was the first time he relied exclusively on tunes from the American Songbook. On top of that, the EPs were clear indicators that Sinatra was back–not as the teen-idol crooner in floppy bowtie, but as the thirty-something urbane swinger in business suit with necktie casually loosened.

It's worth noting that Sinatra’s career was on the rocks in the early 1950s. His voice was shot, Hollywood agents were no longer returning his calls, and Columbia Records had released him from contract. What to do? Take time off for the vocal chords to heal, then go on the road with a small band of dedicated jazz professionals, and a batch of uptempo tunes scored by talented George Siravo. People turned out in droves to revel in the new, swingin’ Sinatra. And it caught the attention of Alan Livingston of Capitol Records, who signed him to an exclusive contract. Livingston encouraged Sinatra to forget drippy love songs and to go for quality–classy tunes from the American Songbook, and paired him with arranger Nelson Riddle. The rest, as they say, is history.

(2) COME FLY WITH ME (958)

With Sinatra, there’s a story behind every album; the story behind “Come Fly With Me” is the former heart-throb had changed arrangers. Sure, a year earlier Gordon Jenkins had scored the songs on “Where Are You” (1956) but no one was confusing one-trick Gordo with Nelson Riddle. The surprise with “Come Fly” was arranger Billy May, known for brassy swing arrangements, was as versatile as Nelson Riddle. “Fly” is a departure for Sinatra in that he mixes swing tunes with ballads, and that May pulls off both with élan and humor, making this album a many-splendored thing. Indeed, May was an inspired co-pilot for this around-the-world travelogue in song. The arranger backs Sinatra with everything from his musical bag of tricks, from his trademark slurping saxophones on “Isle of Capri” to an Asian gong that concludes “On the Road to Mandalay” to the shimmering strings of “Moonlight in Vermont”, "Autumn in New York", "London by Night" and "April in Paris." Add the upbeat "Brazil" and the moody "Blue Hawaii," and what this album amounts to is a series of musical postcards.

(3) NICE 'N' EASY (1960)

Throughout the 1950s, Columbia Records issued Sinatra albums comprised of his hits from the 1940s. These albums were merely a collection of singles in contrast to the great concept albums Sinatra was creating at the same time for Capitol Records; however they may have confused the buying public and hurt record sales for Sinatra's new label. “Nice ’N’ Easy” was Capitol’s revenge. With the exception of the title track, all the songs are remakes of Sinatra’s earlier Columbia hits, only better sounding and in stereo. With Nelson Riddle as arranger, Sinatra recorded twelve glowingly warm love songs over three sessions in March 1960. Nobody remembers the title for the project, but it may well have been “The Nearness of You.” Both the song and album title were dropped when Sinatra decided to record “Nice ’N’ Easy” as the opening track. It’s the one uptempo tune on an album of ballads, but such are the lyrics it fits the romantic mood perfectly. What attracted Jazz aficionados was Riddle’s inventive arrangements which spotlighted a different instrument on nearly every cut: Plas Johnson’s tenor sax on “That Old Feeling” and “Nevertheless”; trombonist George Roberts on “How Deep is the Ocean?”; reed player Harry Klee on “Fools Rush In”; trumpeter Carroll Lewis on “Nevertheless” and “She’s Funny That Way”; violinist (and Sinatra pal) Felix Slatkin on “Try a Little Tenderness” and “Mam’selle”; and pianist Bill Miller, delivering the coda on “I’ve Got a Crush on You.” On this 1990 CD re-release, “The Nearness of You,” has been reinstated, as a bonus song. Sinatra never sounded better with what is his most overtly romantic song collection for Capitol Records. “Nice ’N’ Easy” topped the charts and stayed there for eighty-six weeks. How’s that for revenge?

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