Christmas Songs By Sinatra (Rpkg) Original recording remastered, Import
The core of this album dates to a 1948 set of 78's that collected the various holiday recordings Frank Sinatra had issued for Columbia records to that point in his still young career. Big-band leader/early Sinatra collaborator Axel Stordahl handles the arrangements, while many tracks(like most pop tunes of the era) feature the backing of various small vocal ensembles. The holiday Sinatra of that teen idol and post-war era may not have yet achieved his uncanny way with a phrase or the world class cool that cemented his legend, but the beginnings of that introspective warmth show through on the singer's solo performance of "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" and elsewhere. This new edition contains three previously unreleased radio recordings that span the sacred ("Ave Maria," "The Lord's Prayer") and secular (a sprightly "Winter Wonderland") as well as songs from the singer's Christmas V-Disc. Collectors will also welcome five rare, heretofore unissued alternate takes of key tracks like "White Christmas" and "Jingle Bells." --Jerry McCulley
Opening the set is a slow, mellow cover of "White Christmas," made famous by Bing Crosby in Holiday Inn. To be fair, Frankie's version is fairly similar, buoyed by the Bobby Tucker Singers. Next up is Silent Night, with a soft, haunting bell introduction. The Ken Lane singers provide a very soft harmony to Frankie's melody. This is one of the more beautiful vintage versions of Silent Night that I've heard; Axel's sweeping string bridge is unmistakably cinematic in only the way that the 1940s could be.
Adestes Fidelis sounds almost identical in arrangement to the first two songs.
But Jingle Bells shakes things up; not as much as Bing and the Andrews Sisters (this version is a tad slower), but it's still a pleasant change of pace from the seriousness of the first three tracks. Other notable tracks include Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, Christmas Dreaming, and the brassy, bold Santa Claus is Coming To Town from 1947. This is the first track where Frankie's really swaggering; there's strong hints of his future swinger status on display. Let It Snow is also brassy and assertive, where the earlier tracks were soft, reverent and string-drenched. Here, muted trumpets and bass provide a rhythmic, lively backdrop for Sinatra. This track most clearly foreshadows Frank's work on Capitol and Reprise, and is the latest of the tracks, from 1950.
Overall, Christmas Songs by Sinatra is a pleasant throwback to a simpler era, full of familiar Christmas tunes and a few surprises such as Christmas Dreaming (which I wasn't familiar with). The arrangements are in that 1940s style: string-drenched, with earnest-sounding female backup singers. The songs from the WWII era reflect on the values of family and faith, evident in religious songs such as Schubert's Ave Maria and the Lord's Prayer in addition to Silent Night and Adeste Fideles. Several of the tracks suffer from Axel's sameness in arrangement, but this is beautiful background music for a quiet Christmas season evening spent around a fireplace, or sitting in the hushed glow of the Christmas tree. Collector's of Frankie's Columbia works will want to add this to their collection. If you're a fan of Frank's later work on Capitol and Reprise, Frank rerecorded most of these songs at a later point (many are on A Jolly Christmas with Frank Sinatra). If you're tired of the latest tween music "sensation" covering Muzak-lite versions of traditional carols, consider returning to the basics with a young Sinatra.