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Mr Lucky
Music Reviews

Frank Sinatra
The Complete Reprise Studio Recordings
Reprise 47045-2 Vocals

sinatra

 

Until recently, when asked about Sinatra, our response was immediately "the Capitol years." We often speak in absolutes and live to regret it. Sure, we have the Tommy Dorsey box (The Song Is You RCA 07863 66353-2) and like it a lot, a few Columbia discs, and a few live recordings. For our aesthetic and taste, the Capitol years are just what grease our griddle.

From the Reprise years, we've always loved the Jobim disc and September of My Years, but we've never been inspired to dig much deeper. We've never been nuts about That's Life, My Way or even Strangers in the Night. Don't even get us started about New York, New York. You can see why we've never pursued these recordings.

The other problem is that during these years, we were actively participating in the mass-produced counter-culture. Frank represented everything we were against and we could cut him no slack. His attempts to keep with the new beat of a vibrant generation made him look even sillier.

Looking back, we just have to say Frank was always great, even when he sang garbage. Especially on the first 10 of this 20-disc set, Frank was in great voice and mostly sang great music with great arrangements. The second half of the set is more problematic but it's actually fun to see how a classic pop singer tries to adapt to the times. Sometimes it actually works.

We've enjoyed a recent immersion into Sinatra. We played every disc in succession and made mental notes about our favorite tracks. The box, while handsome in its simplicity, contains a virtually useless book that offers no insight on the individual recordings, not even revealing which tracks were on what albums. We used Will Friedwald's musical biography of Frank, The Song Is You (DeCapo Press) as our guide and had a fine vacation. The book is great in that it feels as if you're having a conversation with a friend you wished you had that could discuss the details and effects of Sinatra's voice, even when you don't agree.

Is The Complete Reprise Studio Recordings for everybody? No, but we bet Sinatra fans, armed with the Friedwald book, will have a great time.

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Viento de Agua
De Puerto Rico
al Mundo
Agogo (Qbadisc) AG 9503 Latin/ Puerto Rico

When speaking of Puerto Rico's contributions to Latin American music, it's usually to describe their particularly intense style of Salsa or their influence on Latin music in New York. In addition to the Salsa beat, Puerto Ricans also have produced the Bomba and Plena to varying degrees of success. The Bomba is supposedly more African in influence while the Plena is more Spanish. To be honest, we've never had much luck distinguishing the two, but have always been keenly aware of a different Puerto Rican sound that almost seems to mix Brazil's Samba with the more Caribbean styles.

Both the Bomba and Plena started as a more folkloric music and both continued to evolve. Versatile Salsa musicians would often throw in a Bomba or Plena into the mix. Puerto Ricans Ismael Rivera (What a voice!) and Rafael Cotijo (What a beat!) never strayed far from their native roots. Recently there's been more interest in these particular forms, most notably by the rootsy band Los Pleneros de la 21.

Viento de Agua's De Puerto Rico al Mundo takes the Plena and Bomba and sets them on fire. Much like the renewed energy in a lot of Cuban music, Viento de Agua modernizes the sound without compromising the original. And like Salsa, the intensity and manic fun starts strong and just keeps getting stronger, particularly on tracks like De Puerto Rico a Nueva York. Even when things seem to start out sweet and carefree, the crescendo builds, often to the point of happy hysteria. We just love this sound.

One dud on the album is Rockeros Muertos which is listed as a "Plena / Rock." Silly guitar riffs and a Styx sense of drama aren't our bag, and we doubt they'll be yours, but it's just one track on an otherwise excellent recording.

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Tito Rodriguez
Estoy Como Nunca
Polydor 314521547-2 Latin

tito rodriguez lge

Much has been written about the Mambo wars of the 1950s and the rivalry between Tito Puente, Machito and Tito Rodriguez. It would be hard to say of there really was a winner (although Tito Puente's longevity helps his case.) Of the Big Three, we have to admit we've always found Tito Rodriguez the least interesting. He's had many wonderful hits and quite a few good arrangements but his voice wasn't particularly striking and he insisted on singing bolero after bolero, which drags down the action and there are many mediocre boleros. Having said all of this, we're happy to report that Estoy Como Nunca is about the most welcome re-issue we could hope for.

The sound quality is excellent and it's a treat to hear the big brassy horn section go to town. The numbers are very "arranged" and the notes credit Ray Santos (See Mario Bauza's recent CDs and Linda Ronstadt's Frenesi) and Rene Hernandez. The feel is definitely mambo, which is interesting since the recording date is from 1968. Soul, Boogaloo or the seeds of Salsa would have seemed more likely. Still, there's no sense that this is a nostalgic tribute to the past. This is the real thing.

There are a few boleros, but don't be discouraged. The title track, followed by more equally danceable material,  is such a great flag-waver that it alone is worth the cost of the CD.

 

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(Review originally appeared in the March 1994 issue of MrLucky)

Back: Charles Brown

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