A NEW FRANK SINATRA ALBUM, SORT OF!
Being Frank Sinatra, Jr. is a double edged sword. Doors that might never have opened for him if his name was Steve Tyrell or John Pizzarelli swing wide at the mere mention of his last name. People who wouldn't otherwise give him a second thought pack his shows all over the country, especially in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, where he's a top draw at the casinos, and his latest album, That Face, is being released on Reprise Records, the label his father founded in 1960. At the same time, the mere mention of that name gives rise to expectations that he's never going to be able to live up to, or live down. No matter how good he is -- and That Face shows him to be very, very good -- he can't help but disappoint people who want him to not only be like, but be, his father.
In some respects, Frank Jr. himself is to blame. Nobody put a gun to his head and made him not just become a singer, but decide to sing the same kind of music as his dad. At least Nancy had the good sense to sing rock-oriented pop that was miles away from what Frank was doing. It's as if Michelangelo Jr. had decided to become a sculptor. What kind of chance does the kid have? But that being said, Sinatra has made the most of his not-quite-as-good-as-the-0ld-man abilities.
At 62, Sinatra looks a lot like his father did at the same age, and without seeming to try, he sounds a lot like Ol' Blue Eyes, with a dollop of Mel Tormé and a dash of Bobby Darin thrown in. That Face is far and away better than recent standards albums by aging rock hacks such as Rod Stewart and Michael Bolton, and it also tops the pop dreck Frank Sr. was recording in the late '70s, when he was the same age his son is now. It's a solid listen -- mostly standards with a handful of newer, less well-known tunes thrown in, featuring arrangements by Nelson Riddle, Torrie Zito and Billy May (all of whom arranged for Frank Jr's dad), to name a few.
The three Billy May charts are of most interest to Sinatra Sr. fans, because they were written for the Chairman of the Board in 1988. Junior, who at that time had just taken over the reins as conductor for his father's live shows, was pushing hard to get Frank back into the studio to record a new album of standards he'd never previously tackled. The arrangements were written, the band was hired, and studio time booked, but only one song was recorded before Frank Sr. got cold feet and abandoned the project. "Cry Me A River," "The Masquerade Is Over," and "Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise" are highlights of the album, and Junior's swinging performances are damn good.
In the end, That Face won't make you forget Songs For Swingin' Lovers or In The Wee Small Hours. It won't even make you forget Duets (although I wish it could). That's the problem with being Frank Sinatra, Jr. He's got to measure up to something that can't be measured up to. All of Junior.'s considerable talent can't recreate that certain... magic, charisma, spark, whatever you want to call it, that his father was born with. But hey, Frank Sr. rang his last ring-a-ding ding in 1998, and the Sinatra estate seems to be losing interest in releasing material from the vaults. So this is not only as close as you're gonna get to a living, breathing Ol' Blue Eyes, it's also a strong pop vocal album from one of the most talented purveyors of the Great American Songbook who's working today.