Here you can discuss other musicians and CD reissues etc
Fri Dec 20, 2013 9:05 pm
Well, that's might decent of them, I must say.
Actually this an obscure Sinatra album from 1968, which really deserves to be better known. Despite my love of Sinatra and his music, I'm often left cold by his Christmas and sacred material, but this album is rather good, even if it does have its moments of banality. Sinatra and his kids present us with ten Christmas songs, most of which are relatively unknown. Anyone looking at the cover might be forgiven for thinking this is going to be a hippyfest along the lines of Sinatra's single release with Nancy, "Life's a Trippy Thing". Thankfully this is much better than that. Like Presley's 1971 Christmas offering, this is a mix of brand new songs and more traditional material but, unlike Elvis's effort, doesn't lead to the slitting of any wrists by the end of the running time.
The album opens with the upbeat "I Wouldn't Trade Christmas". Written by Sinatra stalwarts Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen, this is hardly top drawer or highly original material, but it works great as an ensemble number for the four singers, The Jimmy Joyce Singers and the orchestra arranged and conducted by Nelson Riddle.
Next up is a song I've written about elsewhere, "Its Such a Lonely Time of Year". This lengthy number (nearly five minutes) is a beautiful ballad sung by Nancy Sinatra in what might just be her best recorded performance. Yes, the song is morose, but also moving and touching and, perhaps best of all, the lyrics don't tell us whether the missed loved one is the result of a broken relationship or someone passing away.
Frank Jr is up next in the pleasant but unremarkable "Some Children See Him", and then Tina and Nancy duet on "O Bambino". The first side is rounded out by The Bells of Christmas, credited to "the family", but Sinatra Sr takes centre stage. This is set to the tune of Greensleeves, and is adapted by Cahn and Heusen. Considering the title, the arrangement is rather morose but, considering the reflective nature of some of the songs here, it is fitting.
Frank Sr finally gets a song to himself at the beginning of side two with "Whatever Happened to Christmas" by Jimmy Webb, whose songs he was championing at the time. It's the only song not arranged by Riddle, and Don Costa really does a lovely job here making fine use of his trademark lush strings.
Tina then gets wheeled in to bombard us with Santa Claus is Coming to Town, sung with the gusto of an X Factor auditionee, but sadly also as out of tune in places. It's no coincidence Tina only gets the one solo, folks. Nancy returns to give us the lovely "Kids", a song credited to Scott Davis, but was actually Mac Davis, composer of In The Ghetto. It’s another lovely song (Nancy really did get the best songs here), demonstrating how all the family are kids at Christmas. Yes, it’s sentimental, but it’s not mawkish and is arranged and performed to perfection.
“The Christmas Waltz” is a song I’ve never much liked, but this second recording by Frank Sinatra is actually really quite stunning, with a much better arrangement than that used on his Capitol Christmas album from a decade earlier. Sinatra was in really fine voice in the late 1960s and, while his albums might not have been selling by the truckload at this point, there is something to recommend each and every one of them.
The album concludes with the obligatory 12 days of Christmas sung by the whole family, with new lyrics that are syrupy enough to make your want to puke (“I gave my loving Dad”) and stupid enough to make you wonder what they were thinking of when they recorded it. The fact that his kids wanted to buy Frank “five ivory combs” when his hair was thinning and ivory was already being frowned upon is just bizarre. Even more bonkers is that they want to give him nine games of Scrabble. Was he running a tournament? Must have been a ball in the Sinatra home that Christmas.
It’s a rocky 35 minutes, with many ups and downs, but overall it’s an album that doesn’t deserve to be as obscure as it is. It seems to have slipped out unnoticed in 1968, and never gained a following. The 2010 reissue on CD sounds gorgeous, with a lovely warm element to the remastering and is recommended for fans of traditional Christmas albums.
Sat Dec 21, 2013 6:15 pm
I'm also fond of The Sinatra Family Wish You a Merry Christmas, although it's my least favourite of Frank's Christmas albums, which I think are among the best ever recorded. A Jolly Christmas from Frank Sinatra is certainly his best-known and most lauded seasonal album, but the 1948 Christmas Songs by Sinatra is stellar, especially the expanded version released on CD by Columbia Legacy. 12 Songs of Christmas, the 1964 album by Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby, with Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians, is another outstanding album that's criminally under-known. Every track is splendid on an album that makes for a truly poignant listening experience. Especially versions of I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, Go Tell it on the Mountain, The Little Drummer Boy and An Old Fashioned Christmas. Some of which can be found on the very excellent compilation, The Frank Sinatra Christmas Collection, which also includes Frank's 1975 recording of John Denver's A Baby Like You, his very moving 1991 version of Silent Night and a few cuts from Frank and Bing's Christmas special. Present here, also, is the best cuts from The Sinatra Family Wish You a Merry Christmas. It's the best Sinatra Christmas compilation available, although no Columbia recordings are present, unfortunately. But The Sinatra Family Wish You a Merry Christmas has its riches, despite one or two clangers; the highlights being quite superb.
Sat Dec 21, 2013 6:34 pm
12 songs was, until January of last year, the missing Sinatra-related original album in my collection, so this is really the first year I have heard it beyond the songs on which Sinatra himself sings. I confess I didn't like it a great deal - the songs performed as an ensemble are really very nice indeed, but I can live without some of the solos - particularly Sinatra's rather ironically. Bing comes over much better with his solos, and gets to re-record the lovely "The Secret of Christmas", which he had first sung a few years before in the film "Say One for Me". But Ella Fitzgerald's version of the song, originally released as a b-side, is still my favourite version of it - her vocal is just so beautiful.
Sun Dec 22, 2013 9:40 am
Personally, I prefer Bing's two recordings of The Secret of Christmas to Ella's version, which is absolutely beautiful. But I love Bing's timbre here. And throughout 12 Songs of Christmas he sings wonderfully, and almost always did. But I very much like Sinatra's solos here, too; although, if pushed, I would probably pick Christmas Songs by Sinatra as his finest Christmas album, and my favourite of his. Vocally, he's perfect on every recording on that album, whilst its brevity was bolstered by the aforementioned Columbia Legacy edition.