New York (Reprise Records)
Reviewed by Greg Beets, Fri., Dec. 11, 2009
Frank SinatraNew York (Reprise)
Much like 2006's Sinatra: Vegas box, this 4-CD/1-DVD set attempts to encapsulate Ol' Blue Eyes' musical relationship with the City That Doesn't Sleep through a decades-spanning series of live recordings. The first mistake is not starting until 1955. Sinatra's nut-making stint with Tommy Dorsey's band is reduced to an after-the-fact walk-on that's both slapdash and poorly recorded. Better Sinatra/Dorsey radio transcriptions exist, but not in Reprise's vaults. From there we jump to a 1963 performance at the United Nations building with original Tonight Show bandleader Skitch Henderson on piano. Interesting as a historical footnote, Sinatra's voice is uneven, most noticeably at the climax of "I Have Dreamed." The U.N.'s acoustics don't help. The lion's share of New York is consumed by two 1974 shows that could have easily boiled down to one. With Hank Aaron and Watergate as a backdrop, both shows suffer under the weight of TV-awards-show-style orchestration that tries too hard. When he's not championing Stephen Sondheim's "Send in the Clowns" as the antidote to "acid rock," Sinatra vainly attempts to keep it current by covering Bread's "If" and Jim Croce's "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" not once, but twice. Subsequent 1984 and 1990 performances swing harder and stay focused on the Great American Songbook. Despite down-market camerawork, the DVD of a 1980 Carnegie Hall show finds Sinatra belting out "Theme From New York, New York" for the hometown crowd like it's still a new toy. Nice, but not nearly enough to solidify this top-dollar set's primary conceit.