Frank Sinatra was such a legendary performer, it’s sometimes easy just to get caught up in that magical voice from his classic era recordings and forget the fact that he was such a towering talent. He morphed throughout his career from teen idol to big-band singer to movie star to big-time Vegas act – he was truly the total package. Of course, along with all that, came the rumors of mob involvement and his Rat-Pack shenanigans, but that unmistakable voice places him in rare company among male singers and he truly is an American icon. This incredibly beautiful box set from Reprise focuses on the Los Vegas years, and gives us four CDs and a DVD that track his Vegas performances across three decades.
Discs one and two date from 1961 and 1966, respectively, and both take place at the Sands Hotel. Both discs are orchestra dates; disc one pairs Sinatra with Antonio Morelli and his Orchestra, while disc two is taken from the legendary Basie/Sinatra Sands’ dates. These two discs really represent the heart of the box set, and showcase Sinatra at his finest and in his best voice. Both orchestras provide superb accompaniment, but the Quincy Jones-conducted Basie sessions definitely get my nod for best overall recorded sound. Both these groups can really swing, and Sinatra was at the top of his game, as evidenced by the lengthy monologues in between sets. Frank really knew how to work a room – his jokes were funny, and the audience responded with thunderous applause.
Disc three fast-forwards to 1982 at Caesar’s Palace, and is an orchestral session but also has several small combo numbers as well. Sinatra is still the consummate entertainer, but you can begin to see cracks in his vocal presentation. He has no problems hitting the really high notes, but the overall texture of his voice is a bit grainy and not quite as sweet as in the earlier years. This disc is particularly amusing – it’s obvious from early on that Dean Martin is in the room, and the hilarious rapport between the two entertainers is a real blast to observe. The disc closes with Nancy Sinatra joining dad on stage for their big hit “Somethin’ Stupid,” and finishes with Frank’s trademark song, “New York, New York,” which he delivers with gusto. Disc four moves forward to 1987 and features another orchestral date at the Golden Nugget. Sinatra’s voice has slipped even futher, but he still commands the room, the orchestra is superb, and a good time was obviously had by all. Among the highlights are a really swinging version of Stevie Wonder’s “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life,” and Frank really wows ‘em with the closer, a rousing “Mack The Knife.”
Disc five is a DVD-Video of a concert from 1978 at Caesar’s Palace, and finds Sinatra still in exceptional voice. The video follows Sinatra all the way from backstage prior to the show until just afterwards, and is a generously-proportioned, entertaining watch. The video’s aspect ration is only full-frame, but the image quality is pretty good considering the probable source and vintage. Audio options are 2.0 stereo and 5.1 surround, and both sounded excellent. There’s also bonus footage in the form of vintage commercial montages for Sinatra in Vegas.
Overall, this is a superb package, and a must-have for Sinatra fans. There’s very little overlap of songs from disc to disc, and some really interesting song choices in a couple of places that I’d never have associated with Sinatra. The audio quality is uniformly excellent throughout, and the video content was both amusing and entertaining. Five stars – very highly recommended!
Tracks: 4 CDs plus DVD set includes 88 tracks too numerous to list – a whole lotta Sinatra! [You can look it up on Amazon if you want.]
— Tom Gibbs