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December 2007

Frank Sinatra
A Voice in Time (1939-1952)
Columbia/Legacy

The Sinatra of dames and broads, the Vegas swinger who believed luck could be a lady, who could woo strangers in the night and score at 30,000 feet (long before there was a club for such mile-high shenanigans); that’s the hipster, bachelor-pad Frank this writer grew up with. The discovery was made much later that there was an entire other Sinatra, a choirboy-turned-dreamy balladeer whose romantic appeal had much more to do with shy warmth and heart-on-his-sleeve tenderness than cocky bravado.

That’s the Sinatra this impressively fashioned, four-disc, 80-track compilation salutes, covering the period from 1939 to 1952 as he progressed from skinny, wet-behind-his-big-ears New Jersey kid to big-band crooner to solo superstar to forgotten man. The beauty of the set lies both in what’s included and what’s not. Missing is the dreck (need anyone reminding of that lowest of lows, “Mama Will Bark”?), plus the sugary duets that teamed him with such Columbia labelmates as Doris Day and Dinah Shore. Granted, the corny “American Beauty Rose” doesn’t hold up too well after more than a half-century, but that’s just one wilted bloom in an otherwise stunning bouquet.

What is here are the hits, naturally, extending from the career-launching “All or Nothing at All” with Harry James from 1939, through the dazzling Dorsey years of “I’ll Never Smile Again,” “This Love of Mine” and “Oh! Look at Me Now” and on to the solo majesty of “Night and Day,” “Put Your Dreams Away” and “I’m a Fool to Want You.” But we’ve heard those songs before. More interesting is the bevy of rarities and radio transcriptions that find Frank skillfully handling such unlikely fare as “No Love, No Nothin’” and “The Trolley Song.” And to dispel any lingering doubt that Sinatra wasn’t still in top vocal shape at the end of his Columbia years, revel in the flawlessness of his “Hello Young Lovers” and “We Kiss in the Shadow,” both from 1951, and the opened-to-full-throttle power of his “Birth of the Blues” from one year later.

Originally published in December 2007
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