Sammy Davis Jr. Yes I Can: The Sammy Davis Jr. Story (Rhino/Warner Archives)

Box Sets

Record Reviews

Sammy Davis Jr.

Yes I Can: The Sammy Davis Jr. Story

(Rhino/Warner Archives)

As a Rat Packer, Sammy Davis Jr. was never the star. He could sing, but not as well as Frank Sinatra. He could act, but not as well as Sinatra. After all nobody ever said, "It's Sammy's world. The rest of us just live in it." Davis could dance, though, and better than the lot of them: better than Frank, better than Dean Martin, better than Peter "brother in" Lawford. So, it's no surprise that before you hear him sing a note on the first disc, you hear the sound of him tap dancing. Still, Yes I Can: The Sammy Davis Jr. Story is ultimately about the music, and as such it alternates between novelty and documentary, and it doesn't split the difference particularly well. After some early swingers on Disc 1 -- "Smile, Darn Ya, Smile," "Love Me or Leave Me," and "Something's Gotta Give" -- most of the performances are uneven, as Davis sounds more often than not like he's working through the songs. His version of "Begin the Beguine" is as overbaked as "Guys and Dolls" is overwrought. And maybe he should have never even sung "Soliloquy," although in his defense, nobody should ever sing that song. There are hits ("I Married an Angel," "I Gotta Be Me"), but there are more misses ("My Funny Valentine," "Unforgettable," "People," "Once in a Lifetime"). He even labors through a beautifully effortless arrangement of Jerry Jeff Walker's "Mr. Bojangles." But after the inconsistencies of the first three discs, the last one is a bit of a joy. Disc 4 consists entirely of live performances, with its 22 tracks pulled almost exclusively from four different shows. Some of the material is silly, some serious, other puzzling, but all of it is breezy. It's Sammy doing what he was best at: entertaining an audience. He sounds at ease and it translates into consistent and unconstrained performances. Even an odd percussion-only work up of a West Side Story medley comes out with a bit of élan. And the live disc almost redeems the whole endeavor. Almost. The set is well-packaged, and the text of the obligatory booklet is the usual hyperbole and standard fellating fare, but the photos and the artwork do breathe an abundance of personality into Davis. Overall, it's a nice testament and a better gesture, but it ain't no essential.


A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Music Reviews
Review: Tearjerk, <i>Face to Face</i>
Review: Tearjerk, Face to Face
Face to Face (Record Review)

Kriss Conklin, May 12, 2023

Album Review: The Stacks
Album Review: The Stacks
Lay Me Down to Rest (Record Review)

Mars Salazar, Feb. 17, 2023

More by Michael Bertin
Margaret Moser Tribute: Kathy Valentine
Kathy Valentine
Right place, right time, right woman to share the joy with

June 30, 2017

SXSW Live Shot: Mark Kozelek
SXSW Live Shot: Mark Kozelek
Little packages of just-so honesty

March 15, 2014

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle