My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Tag Archives: Ira Gershwin

Album Review: Trisha Yearwood — ‘Let’s Be Frank’

It is always nice to encounter new music from Trisha Yearwood, one of the best female vocalists of the pre-millennial generation of country singers. While I would have preferred to have new country music from Ms. Yearwood, I really can’t complain about an album dedicated to the music of Frank Sinatra.

Frank Sinatra was such an omnipresent force in the music I heard growing up, that I find it hard to believe that it has been over twenty years since his death on May 14, 1998. Arriving on the scene in the mid- 1930s Frank continued to have hit records into the early 1980s. Along with Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole and Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra is one of the four faces that would belong on a Mount Rushmore of classic pop music (some would insert Perry Como, Joe Williams. Mel Torme or Tony Bennett alongside Crosby and Sinatra but this is my Mount Rushmore). Sinatra recorded for RCA (technically these were issued as Tommy Dorsey Orchestra featuring Frank Sinatra), Columbia, Capitol, and Reprise/Warner Brothers. The A&R Director at Columbia was Mitch Miller, who was somewhat addicted to novelty songs and tended to pander to the pop market. Disgusted, Sinatra left Columbia for Capitol, determined to record only quality material. The Capitol and Reprise recordings are chock full of good material. Perfectionist that he was, Sinatra often re-recorded past material, usually bringing a new slant to the material, whether in orchestration, time signatures or approach. None of Sinatra’s remakes could be described as dreary or inferior.

In making this album, Trisha Yearwood has selected eleven songs that Sinatra sang over the course of his long career plus one new song. The album opens up with “Witchcraft”, a top twenty pop hit from 1957, written by Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh. It would be difficult to top Frank’s recording but Ms. Yearwood gives it a really good effort.

“Drinking Again” is a song I associate with Dinah Washington, one of the most soulful R&B singers ever. I like Yearwood’s version (and Frank’s version, too); however, neither version measures up to the Dinah Washington recording. Sinatra’s version is fairly obscure, appearing on several Sinatra sampler albums and anthologies.

Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen were among Sinatra’s favorite songsmiths, both separately and together. “All The Way” appeared in the film The Joker Is Wild and the song received the 1957 Academy Award for Best Original Song. It reached #2 on Billboard’s airplay charts and is a song that Sinatra would revisit several times. Trisha does a fine job with the song giving a properly nuanced delivery.

“Come Fly With Me” was the title track to one of Sinatra’s biggest albums, reaching #1 in the US and #2 in the UK in 1958. The song was not released as a single but it is a very well known song – if Billboard had charted album tracks, this song, with a swinging arrangement by Billy May, undoubtedly would have been a hit. Trisha does not swing with quite the flair of Sinatra (who does?) but she does a more than satisfactory job with the song.

Nobody associates “(Somewhere) Over The Rainbow” with Frank Sinatra, and although Sinatra recorded E.Y. Harburg’s classic song for Columbia in the mid-1940s, Frank would have been the first to tell you that the song forever belongs to Judy Garland. Sinatra version had the sort of ‘Hearts and Flowers’ arrangement that Columbia’s Axel Stordahl was known for, and Yearwood follows the same approach. Her version is very good, with an understated ending but I would have picked another song for this album.

“One For My Baby” is what Sinatra called a ‘saloon song’. A saloon is one of the last places I would expect to find Trisha Yearwood and while she does a nice job with the song, she does not imbue the song with the sense of melancholy that Frank breathed into this Johnny Mercer classic:

 It’s quarter to three

There’s no one in the place

Except you and me

So set ’em up Joe

I got a little story

I think you should know

We’re drinking my friend

To the end

Of a brief episode

Make it one for my baby

And one more for the road …


You’d never know it

But buddy I’m a kind of poet

And I’ve got a lot of things

I’d like to say

And when I’m gloomy

Won’t you listen to me

Till it’s talked away

Well, that’s how it goes

And Joe I know your gettin’

Anxious to close


And thanks for the cheer

I hope you didn’t mind

My bending your ear

But this torch that I found

It’s gotta be drowned

Or it’s soon might explode

Make it one for my baby

And one more for the road

George & Ira Gershwin created “They All Laughed” back in 1937 for the film Shall We Dance starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Ginger sang the song in the movie and it is a perfect fit for Trisha. While I would not regard this as a Sinatra song (he recorded once, in 1980, as part of his rather odd Trilogy: Past Present and Future album), there is no doubt that Trisha does a superlative job with the song.

 They all laughed at Christopher Columbus

When he said the world was round

They all laughed when Edison recorded sound

They all laughed at Wilbur and his brother

When they said that man could fly

They told Marconi

Wireless was a phony

It’s the same old cry

They laughed at me wanting you

Said I was reaching for the moon

But oh, you came through

Now they’ll have to change their tune

They all said we never could be happy

They laughed at us and how!

But ho, ho, ho!

Who’s got the last laugh now?

“If I Loved You” was a Rodgers & Hammerstein song from the Broadway musical Showboat. Again it is not especially thought of as a Sinatra song, although he recorded it for Columbia and Capitol, but, it is a nice song that Trisha handles well.

 If I loved you,

Time and again I would try to say

All I’d want you to know.

If I loved you,

Words wouldn’t come in an easy way

Round in circles I’d go!

Longin’ to tell you,

But afraid and shy,

I’d let my golden chances pass me by!

Soon you’d leave me,

Off you would go in the mist of day,

Never, never to know how I loved you

If I loved you.

“The Man That Got Away” is another Judy Garland classic, this time from the pens of Harold Arlen & Ira Gershwin. Sinatra sang it as “The Gal That Got Away” but it works better from the feminine perspective, and I prefer Trisha’s version to Frank’s version.

“The Lady Is A Tramp” is a Rodgers & Hart composition from the play Babes In Arms. Trisha sings the song from the feminine perspective, and while the song works better sung from the masculine perspective, the main problem is that Trisha simply doesn’t swing as well as Sinatra.

“For The Last Time” is the only new song on the album, written by Trisha Yearwood and her husband Garth Brooks. It is a very good, but not great, song that Sinatra might have recorded as an album track. I am impressed that they came up with a song that could fit Sinatra’s milieu.

The album closes with “I’ll Be Seeing You”, a song written by Sammy Fain and Irvin Kahal in the late 1930s. While the song was huge hit for Bing Crosby and for the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra featuring Frank Sinatra, Sinatra very much liked the song and also recorded the song for Columbia and Capitol. He also featured it in concert

I’ll be seeing you

In every lovely summer’s day

In everything that’s light and gay

I’ll always think of you that way


I’ll find you in the morning sun

And when the night is new

I’ll be looking at the moon

But I’ll be seeing you

This is a very nice album indeed and I would give it an A-, docking it very slightly for some errant choices in material as regards Sinatra. That said, the arrangements are very good to excellent, and the musical accompaniment is excellent (unfortunately my copy is a digital download so I do not have a list of the musicians) and the songs are fine exemplars of well-crafted songs. This album will likely appeal more to fans of classic pop/pop standards than to fans of either traditional country or modern country but I would recommend the album to anyone interested in hearing the magic that occurs when an excellent vocalist is paired with worthy material.

Album Review – Willie Nelson – ‘Stardust’

220px-Willie_Nelson_StardustWillie Nelson was one of the biggest artists in country music in the mid-1970s. Red Headed Stranger and Wanted! The Outlaws had solidified his place as a genre superstar, selling at previously unheard of volumes. He also had complete creative control over his music; with Columbia Records allowing him to make whatever records he wanted.

Nelson had been mulling over the idea of making a standards album for a while, even trying to arrange “Stardust” on guitar from sheet music he and his sister Bobbie had, to no avail. By 1977 he was living in the same Malibu, CA Neighborhood as R&B/Soul Musician Booker T. Jones. They became such good friends that Nelson asked Jones to arrange a version of the standard “Moonlight In Vermont” for him. He was so pleased by the results, he asked Jones to produce an entire album of pop standards for him. The pair went into the studio and recorded the project in just nine days early that December.

The resulting album, Stardust, initially had the executives at Columbia Records nervous. A fusion of pop, jazz, folk, and country, the sonic direction of the project bared little resemblance to Nelson’s previous ‘outlaw’ album and thus they feared it wouldn’t sell. The label went forward anyways, releasing the ten-song collection in April 1978.

The label chose Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell’s “Georgia On My Mind” (a hit for Ray Charles in 1960) as the lead single. The song, despite a slow and prodding acoustic guitar-led arrangement, shot to #1 on the country chart. Nelson, who won the 1979 Best Male Country Vocal Performance Grammy for the track, gives a tender and endearing vocal on the recording.

Second single “Blue Skies” followed suit. Jones was smart, giving Nelson a more muscular arrangement to complement his somewhat free flowing vocal. Third and final single “All of Me,” easily the best and peppiest of the album’s singles, peaked at #3.

“Moonlight In Vermont,” the track that started it all, is a very slow jazzy/folk ballad that Nelson sings well. “Stardust” isn’t any livelier although the ethereal aspects of the production give it a gorgeously pleasant quality that nicely frames Nelson’s voice.

The Gershwin’s “Someone To Watch Over Me” is aided by a distinctive melody that allows Nelson to give a more structured vocal performance. “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” is just as good, showing off Nelson’s interpretation skills as a jazz vocalist, with a nice upright bass and harmonica heavy production that suits the song well. “Unchained Melody” could’ve used a little more cadence in the production, allowing Nelson to give a more rhythmic vocal but he gives a nice effort, working with Jones’ arrangement.

“On The Sunny Side of the Street” gives Nelson a nice opportunity to step outside his musical comfort zone and embrace a finger snappin’ jazz style that actually works for his voice and overall persona. “September Song,” meanwhile, is nothing more than a deliberate pop/jazz ballad, although Nelson sings it very well (It peaked at #15 in 1979). The reissue edition includes two more songs – a beautiful folkish take on “Scarlet Ribbons” and a straight up jazz rendition of “I Can See Clearly Now.” Both are very good and compliment the original album very well.

The execs at Columbia had a reason to be scared, as Stardust has a very unapologetic sound. Thankfully their nervousness was quickly put to rest. The album went platinum upon release and spent 540 weeks, ten years, on the top country albums chart and two years in the top 10 of the Billboard 200. Stardust went quintuple (5 million) platinum in 2002 and Nelson performed the entire album live – start to finish – at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles this past August to mark the thirty-fifth anniversary.

Stardust is nothing short of a classic and one of the greatest country albums of all time. I wish I could say it appeals more to my taste, but Jones’ production is too slow and sleepy for me to fully enjoy it. The project could’ve used some more uptempo numbers to even out the heaviness, and I probably would’ve enjoyed it more. But I can still appreciate the project for what it is, and there are some moments of brilliance here from Nelson.

Two Grades:

Personal Grade: C+ (I wish I could enjoy it more – it’s too slow and prodding for me)

On it’s own merit: A (I can fully see why it’s such an amazing album, and Nelson is brilliant here)