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Frank Sinatra: Concert for the Americas (DVD Review)

20 Dec, 2010 By: Mike Clark

Shout! Factory/Vivendi
$19.98 DVD
Not rated.

My mother turns 88 next month, but whenever I go home, we still drink martinis and listen to Sinatra off my iPod, where individual cuts are measured by the hundreds.

But if the Frank gene I got from her is jumbo, even I wouldn’t have been prepared to hear him sound as in ship-shape as he does on this Dominican Republic Americas concert — preserved in 1982 when he was 66 — had I not seen him myself a year later (eighth row center in Washington, D.C.’s Kennedy Center) when his evening “form” surpassed even my hopes. Sinatra even began my own concert and this Americas performance with the same tune: “I’ve Got the World on a String,” which is among those early Capitol cuts that revitalized his singing career just as From Here to Eternity was doing the same for his big-screen legacy.

Recorded at the Altos De Chavron Amphitheatre in La Ramona, Americas represents a DVD premiere (in this country at least) — though Shout! Factory also included it in its seven-disc Frank Sinatra: Concert Collection, which came out Nov 2 for a $79.95 list price. Except for one relative musical stiff (“Searching”) he wastes time on just after 64-year-old drummer Buddy Rich pounds and sweats up a storm during Sinatra’s intermission, Americas’ 18-tune playlist is all but exclusively made up of familiar benchmarks from the singer’s relatively later Capitol and Reprise eras. This said, he does perform 1945’s Columbia-era “The House I Live In,” a warmly patriotic tune from an eponymous short subject that won him a special Academy Award at the time.

Even more than the vintage and even classic TV specials that constitute most of the box, the Americas set seems especially designed for the TV cameras, and Sinatra seems comfortable even when feigning disgust that his tonsils-fortifying drinking glass is filled with dreaded water (for completists, there’s even one fairly graphic shot of him spitting it out). Sinatra graciously credits each tune’s composer and even arranger, and no one gets more kudos than George Harrison preceding a most singular performance of “Something,” which leads to an introduction of wife Barbara (looking mighty fine) from the audience. This was a long, long time after Sinatra had ceased knocking his rock competition, back in the burgeoning rock era of Elvis and his imitators.

Even against a lot of contenders, Americas has to be counted as a high point in the Concert box set, which includes several TV specials previously released by Warner and material also fresh to DVD. Of the former, one can’t say enough about 1967’s A Man and His Music + Ella + Jobim, which features two medleys pairing Sinatra with Ella Fitzgerald — she even sings the theme to Frank’s Miami cop caper Tony Rome — plus an added teaming with Antonio Carlos Jobim back from when their Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim LP was making waves (what an unexpected brainstorm that was on someone’s part).

The other personal favorite is 1973’s Ol’ Blue Eyes Is Back, which represented Sinatra’s so-called show biz comeback after a hiatus in recording and certainly in movies after Dirty Dingus Magee (what was that title again?) did a major negative number on his screen career. He and guest star Gene Kelly do a routine that celebrates the energetic choreography identified with the three ’40s musicals they made together — feats the two say they can no longer pull off yet do (Kelly is pretty amazing). It also features Sinatra’s Gordon Jenkins rendition (there’s another lesser one) of “Send In the Clowns,” which to me ranks with the Yankee Stadium hallmark “New York, New York” as the high point of his later career.

The new-to-DVD material includes a 1985 Budokan (Tokyo) concert in which he is also in good voice — though by this time the playlist is mostly made up of tunes that allow him to belt it. Plus a 1977 Sinatra and Friends curiosity that features a disco All or Nothing At All duet with Loretta Lynn — to say nothing of a Guys and Dolls staple (“The Oldest Established Permanent Floating Crap Game in New York”) on which Sinatra is accompanied by Dean Martin and Robert Merrill (now there’s an example of competing disciplines).

Other fresh treasures are culled from Sinatra’s weekly series launched by ABC-TV in 1957, when it failed in the Friday night ratings opposite CBS’s “Mr. Adams and Eve” and NBC’s “M Squad” (two shows I liked a lot myself at the time, so I can see the problem). Sinatra was never comfortable with “patter” the way fellow TV hosts Perry Como and Dean Martin were, but the footage here — from an old PBS airing called Vintage Sinatra — is made up of pure performances interspersed with obviously knowledgeable commentary from all three of his grown children.

Frank Jr. and Tina are especially good, whereas Nancy avoids eye contact and keeps staring out into space in a discomforting way. A very welcome bonus is 10 previously unreleased numbers from the Friday series plus individual ABC specials Sinatra did after it was canceled. One of these affords a very rare chance to see him perform “We’ll Be Together Again,” a great ballad co-written by Frankie Laine and the only slow-ish tune included on his landmark 1956 Songs for Swingin’ Lovers LP. I’ve never quite understood how it got on the album, but it’s a killer.

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