Picks and Pans Review: The Voice: the Columbia Years, 1943-1952

updated 03/09/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/09/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

Frank Sinatra

If you're going to have just six Sinatra albums in your collection, none of the six in this set should be among them. On the other hand, these records aren't just relics of interest only to Sinatraphiles. First he earned his nickname. His voice was a marvel-warmer, lighter, clearer than it became later. His delivery was ultraromantic, naive-sounding; the word "croon" never seemed more appropriate. His takes of Laura, Ghost of a Chance and Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out To Dry, among others in this collection, are still stunning. There are a lot of songs included here that Sinatra never recorded again. A few were just as well forgotten, either because they were inconsequential or were ill-suited—The Continental or Oh Bess, Oh Where's My Bess from Porgy and Bess come to mind. Lost in the Stars, You Can Take My Word for It, Baby and Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin' are among the unexpected pleasures, and in a way, so is the WWII brotherhood anthem, The House I Live In (a film short dramatizing that song was a prehistoric ancestor of today's videos). What slows the whole package down is that most of the tracks were recorded with the orchestra of Axel Stordahl, often with a big, syrupy vocal chorus added to an already florid, string-heavy arrangement. The genius of the later work Billy May—and Nelson Riddle—did with Sinatra is apparent by comparison. Typical is Body and Soul, on which Stordahl's band thuds in like a huge soggy blanket every time Sinatra or trumpet player Bobby Hackett, sitting in as guest soloist, start setting up a mood. Only one record in the set, Sinatra Swings, offers a glimpse of the singer who was to come. These sides were recorded mostly with smaller, jazz-oriented groups that drew out Sinatra's ability to use rhythm the way he used phrasing and melody. One, Sweet Lorraine, was done with the Metronome All-Stars in 1946. Hearing Sinatra sing in front of a band including saxophonists Coleman Hawkins and Johnny Hodges, trumpet player Charlie Shavers, drummer Buddy Rich and Nat Cole on piano is a music lover's fantasy come true. As critic-novelist Wilfrid Sheed writes in his witty notes introducing this collection, "While he is singing, Frank Sinatra is holier than any choirboy who ever lived, and each time he clears his pipes for business, he pays all his debts to society, and Bluebeard's as well." (Columbia)

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