Nothing but the Best
First Appeared in The Music Box, June 2008, Volume 15, #6
Written by John Metzger
Thu June 5, 2008, 09:30 AM CDT
When icons from the pop music world assume complete control over their careers, the results can go either way. On the one hand, the freedom with which they suddenly find themselves sometimes can lead to overindulgence and a lack of self-editing. A few artists, however, have succeeded in parlaying these unrestricted opportunities into some of the most memorable recordings in their respective catalogues. This was the case with Frank Sinatra, who seemed to understand the ebb and flow of the entertainment business as well as just about anyone. In 1952, a decade after he emerged from the big band scene as a solo artist, he saw the writing on the wall and, in the wake of a series of artistic disputes, he left Columbia behind.
A year later, Sinatra signed with Capitol, where he truly obtained superstar status. By 1960, however, he once again had grown dissatisfied with his label, particularly its managerial decisions. As a result, he hastily completed a quartet of albums for the company in order to extricate himself from his contractual obligations. Moving to the greener pastures of Reprise, which he had founded, he then hired the cream of the crop to support his endeavors. Collaborating with the likes of Count Basie, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Nelson Riddle, and Quincy Jones, Sinatra proceeded to create an astounding body of work for which he continues to receive a great deal of attention.
Nothing but the Best, the latest attempt at presenting an overview of Sinatra’s canon, focuses entirely upon the recordings that he made for Reprise. Considering it squeezes 21 vintage tracks — plus a newly completed alternate rendition of Body and Soul — onto a single disc, it’s safe to say that there are too many holes for anyone to make the claim that the outing is a definitive retrospective. After all, to paint a complete portrait of Sinatra’s studio endeavors, it would be necessary to examine material from his tenures at Columbia and Capitol as well as additional cuts from the two decades that he spent with Reprise. Given, however, that Nothing but the Best contains a veritable treasure trove of his hits — everything from Luck Be a Lady to My Kind of Town and from Fly Me to the Moon (In Other Words) to My Way is included on the set — it is equally difficult to imagine a better or more concise introduction to his work than this.
Sinatra was 45 years old when he began recording for Reprise in 1960. Not surprisingly, his vocals throughout Nothing but the Best lack the hungry aggression of his early efforts. Without a doubt, the singles and albums he made for Capitol were among the boldest in his career. Nevertheless, what he lost in terms of youthful exuberance, he gained in the refined maturity of his approach. There’s a level of suave sophistication to all of the songs on Nothing but the Best that is unparalleled, and it stems from the way in which his voice was framed so perfectly by the arrangements that he employed.
There was never a point in time when Sinatra didn’t exude a graceful, charming presence, and the way in which he settles into each of the songs on Nothing but the Best is deceptively comfortable and casual. Over the years, particularly through film, these tunes have become so ingrained in the public’s consciousness that it is an easy matter to take them for granted. It is, however, quite amazing to consider how effortlessly he managed to carry the big-band era along with him, well after it had been supplanted by an array of other styles. For anyone looking to pick up a sizeable chunk of Sinatra’s most familiar material in one fell swoop, Nothing but the Best certainly does the trick.
Of Further Interest...
Nothing but the Best is available
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2008 The Music Box