Frank Sinatra: September of My Years

A reflective Sinatra records his last perfect solo album

Frank Sinatra was hitting yet another career peak as the British Invasion stormed the popular music charts in the mid-60s. But such was his artistic force that the period saw the Chairman’s continued success on both the album and singles charts, successfully battling the storm unleashed by the Beatles and their compatriots. In 1965, with his 50th birthday looming, Sinatra took stock at mid-life and recorded thirteen songs with arranger Gordon Jenkins. Their choices delicately balanced a nostalgic look at the successes of youth, poignant thoughts on the limitations brought on by age, and optimistic visions of what time was still left to live. Sinatra had never before sounded this personally vulnerable, and the realization of his own mortality comes across like a genuine first thought.

The swagger of Sinatra’s recent swing albums gave way in this set to the sort of melancholy he’d explored with Jenkins on 1957’s brilliant Where Are You? and 1959’s No One Cares. Though Nelson Riddle is usually hailed as Sinatra’s most sympathetic arranger, Jenkins’ charts, both in 1957 and in 1965, winningly back Sinatra with lush strings that frame the singer exquisitely. In the thirty years since Sinatra broke into music as a boy singer, he’d proved himself America’s greatest interpretive vocalist, and now, in the approach to his golden years, he firmly established himself as the elder statesman of pop music. He’d record some good albums throughout the rest of the 1960s, but never again would he make such an arresting, innovative and deeply personal artistic statement.

The songs he picked for this album don’t fight the notion of aging, but neither do they succumb to its frailties. The title track, recorded five weeks after the rest of the album, opens the set with the stark realization of passing years, but “How Old Am I” opts to see the changes of age as maturity rather than weaknesses, and exults the power of love to keep one vital. Sinatra and Jenkins gathered “top of your game songs” and performed them with a presence and knowingness that was, particularly among Sinatra’s rich catalog of stellar recordings, astounding. Sinatra’s empty nest – his three children were grown and he was currently single – is heard in Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn’s “It Gets Lonely Early,” but even here the lyric is both happily nostalgic and optimistically forward looking.

Sinatra was no stranger to thematic albums, but never before, and never after, would the theme connect so closely to his circumstance or the emotion spring from so deep in his heart. Recorded in only three sessions spread over eight days, September of My Years won the 1966 Grammy award for album of the year, and Sinatra won an individual Grammy for best male vocal performance for “It Was a Very Good Year.” Jenkins won for his brilliant arrangement of the same song, and Stan Cornyn (who returns to this reissue with new liner notes) won a Grammy for his original album notes (which themselves are reproduced in the booklet). Concord’s 2010 reissue adds two bonus tracks to the original baker’s dozen: a 1984 live recording of “This is All I Ask” and an alternate version of “How Old Am I?” released as a single. With or without the bonuses, this is one of a half-dozen essentials in any Sinatra fan’s collection. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

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