When I'm sitting in my cubicle at work listening to my iPod, I spend a majority of my time listening to the most brutal heavy metal known to man. Lamb of God, Cannibal Corpse, Threat Signal, Death, Amon Amarth, and the list goes on. Surprisingly though, I'm not one of those closed-minded idiots that throws their fists up in the air, and claims that if it isn't heavy, then it isn't music. No, I have a fairly diverse taste in music, listening to pretty much every other genre that's out there... except for country. A man has to draw the line somewhere. Being only 28 years old and heavily influenced by the music of today, it may surprise many of you that my favorite recording artist of all time is none other than the blue eyed crooner himself, Frank Sinatra. I own the complete Columbia, Capitol, and Reprise collections, and I simply can't get enough of The Rat Pack. Now, this may not exactly make me the most qualified person to give an informative write-up of a Sinatra DVD to you lifelong fans, but I feel my opinions are relevant for one very important reason - I'm living proof that the man and his legacy will effortlessly entertain the world for generations to come. It doesn't matter how extreme or experimental 'the scene' has become over the years, because music like Frank's transcends and will continue to transcend whatever fads may come along. A little band music and a little rhythm from a bass will always make peoples feet tap, and Sinatra's lyrics are going to remain undeniably catchy until the end of time. So, it was a great pleasure for me to receive the opportunity to review the Frank Sinatra - A Man and His Music Collection on DVD. The question is, is this release worthy enough to claim a spot in any Sinatra fan's collection? The short and thick of it is, yes and no.
These two discs contain three television specials that aired between 1965 and 1967, as well as a final special that aired much later in 1981. The first concern I had when sitting down to watch these four specials, is if they would come off as slight variations of the same format, or if each one would truly offer a unique experience. A Man and His Music gives us the Chairman of the Board doing his thing, with the accompaniment of an orchestra, of course. In between musical numbers, Sinatra charms the audience by being professional yet personable at the same time, by being incredibly gracious and even telling some light-hearted jokes to provide a fun atmosphere. Next, A Man and His Music II introduced the song That's Life, in its fully intended form with the original arrangement by Nelson Riddle (the infamous version we all know was arranged by Ernie Freeman). As an added bonus, Nancy Sinatra takes the stage as well. On A Man and his Music + Ella + Jobim, features Mr. Sinatra on stage with Antonio Carlos Jobim, and the legendary Ella Fitzgerald. Medleys and duets round out this special, most notably being Frank and Ella's take on Lady Is A Tramp, as well as They Can't Take That Away. The final piece, Sinatra - The Man and His Music, features the Chairman with none other than Count Basie, and is easily my favorite of the bunch. Basie isn't on stage during the entire performance, but Frank offers a good selection of songs that weren't performed on the previous specials, and when Basie does come up to sing, the chemistry between the two vocal greats is truly something to behold. Sinatra still sounds very good around his 70th year of age, and in fact has a little more soul behind it than in his earlier years. Basie's sound complements Frank's matured sound with ease. Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised to find each of these specials to be just as unique as the last.
Each of these 50 minute performances are some of the best live concerts of Sinatra you can get your hands on, so as far as your bang for the buck is concerned, you're getting what you pay for and then some. Each performance stands as a testament to a time when singers weren't just singing behind a microphone on stage. No, Frank Sinatra, among others, was a charismatic entertainer. It's a shame that in order to get that experience nowadays, at least live, you have to go see something like the Broadway smash hit, The Rat Pack - Live at the Sands. That showmanship is preserved on this two disc set, and Sinatra fans old and new alike should find his stage presence to be just as impressive today, as it was years ago.
Yet, despite all the praise for the content provided on this two disc set, it's hard for me to recommend to Sinatra fans. Sure, the performances are absolutely fantastic, and the Chairman should absolutely be remembered in the way he's portrayed himself in each of these specials. With that being said however, these two discs have already seen the light of day in the Frank Sinatra: Concert Collection boxed set that was released November 2, 2010, by Shout Factory. Normally when it comes to boxed sets, I can certainly understand that there are people that may not want to own every single disc in any given collection. There's always something that stands as the exception to the rule though, and the Frank Sinatra: Concert Collection is that very exception. There are 7 discs in that set that can easily be purchased for a $50-$60 price point. The two disc set I'm reviewing here however, is around $20-$25. By spending a little more than half of what you're getting here, you'll be treated to concerts that are more rare than these, and you'll be bumping the runtime up by about 600 minutes. Considering the two disc A Man and His Music set were the first two discs in the Concert Collection it's probably safe to assume that Shout Factory will be releasing the other discs (minus perhaps the 7th bonus disc) separately as well. In fact, you can count on it, as this is already being advertised inside the included booklet. May as well save yourself the heartache and your hard earned coin now, and spring for the ultimate set that's already been available for months.
If for some reason the big boxed set still doesn't appeal to you, then I really see no reason why you shouldn't pick this release up. This is Frank at his finest, and the inclusion of his daughter Nancy, Ella Fitgerald, Antonio Carlos Jobim, as well as Count Basie and his band, are sure to please everyone who has an interest in a style of entertainment that's unfortunately gone the way of the dodo.
Unsurprisingly, these televised specials are in their original 4:3 aspect ratio, and considering the source... they look gooood. These specials made their rounds years and years ago on DVD, each sold separately (hard to imagine now, I know). The transfers at the time looked horrid though, hardly better than the VHS tapes that preceded them. This time? It's still blatantly obvious that these are old televised specials of course, but the upgrade here isn't subtle. It's impressive for what it is, and I doubt they could ever look any better than they do now. Shout Factory deserves a round of applause for taking the time, effort, and money to preserve these classic performances, and ensuring they'll be enjoyed for many more generations to come. Speaking from a technical standpoint though, you can expect there to be some interlacing, a random assortment of shots that look softer than others, as well as some muted colors on occasion to boot. Again though, the source has been treated with care and it shows. Sinatra fans should be very pleased with the video presentation on these discs. A fair warning though, those with unrealistic expectations of these specials are probably going to think this looks closer to a VHS than anything, but again, the source needs to be considered.
I was actually somewhat surprised by the stereo tracks on this 2 disc set. I was expecting somewhat of a 'tin-can' sort of sound, a little high on the treble and no warmth backing these unforgettable songs... ya know, something that would have made these specials sound like their age. But fortunately, the bands were vibrant and warm, and all the singers sounded nearly flawless. Of course, when it comes to Sinatra and his musical guests, the sound is the most important aspect of all, and Shout Factory nailed that sound with this release.
Unfortunately, there are no extras available on these two discs. That much was expected though, as the Concert Collection boxed set includes a disc that's dedicated solely to special features.
These specials really are a treat for any Sinatra fan out there. The man effortlessly commanded the medium of television just as he did with radio, and if he didn't prove enough between 1965 and 1967, he came back in 1981 to show us he still had it. Now, you can own this piece of Sinatra history for a reasonable price... that is, if you're not interested in owning the Frank Sinatra: Concert Collection (and why wouldn't you be?). As far as the quality of this release, despite what some videophiles out there might think upon their first viewing, the video quality here is pretty darn good considering the source, and is miles above the DVD's that were released years ago. And of course, the sound is phenomenal (again, considering the source). I can only recommend this set however, as your money is definitely going to be better spent on the big boxed set these two discs came from - The Frank Sinatra: Concert Collection.