Various Artists: The Very Best of the Rat Pack

Early ‘60s thrills from Sinatra, Davis and Martin

By the early ‘60s the Rat Pack that had once included Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall and Judy Garland had evolved to a Sintara-centric group (that called itself “the Summit”) that included fellow vocalists Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin. All three were solo recording and concert stars, but it’s their impromptu performances on one another’s Las Vegas bills that solidified their reputation for suave masculinity. The trio, along with Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop, starred in the films Ocean’s Eleven and Sergeants 3, but didn’t often record together. The 18-songs in this collection rotate through each singer’s solo recordings, and includes duets of Sinatra and Davis on “Me and My Shadow” and Davis and Martin on “Sam’s Song.”

Sinatra’s tracks are selected from his early Reprise years, and include the brash “Luck Be a Lady” and the title track from his label debut, Ring-a-Ding-Ding. The bulk of these are remakes of songs that Sinatra initially recorded for Capitol in the 1950s, including “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” “Come Fly with Me,” “Witchcraft” and “I Get a Kick Out of You.” These ‘60s performances find Sinatra in good voice, jazzily stretching out the rhythms, playfully punctuating his syllables and snapping his fingers on “Come Fly with Me,” but they don’t have the inventive vitality of the Capitol originals. The early Reprise-era Sinatra often sounds like an entertainer coasting on his top-of-the-world success rather than an artist brashly reinventing himself, as he had at Capitol.

Martin’s tracks, borrowed from both the Capitol and Reprise libraries, include signature hits “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head,” “Volare,” “You’re Nobody ‘Til Somebody Loves You” and “Everybody Loves Somebody.” Additionally, his 1962 single “Who’s Got the Action?” pairs horn-heavy swing with a lyric of love and horseracing. The same year saw the release of the Vaudeville-styled duet, “Sam’s Song,” with Davis singing stagey counterpoint to Martin’s crooning. Davis’ solo tracks show off his brilliant theatricality as he caresses and belts Bye Bye Birdie’s “A Lot of Livin’ to Do,” and his roots in blues and jazz come out for the Ocean’s Eleven showcase “Eee-O Eleven” and a reprise of his own Broadway success with Mr. Lucky’s “Too Close for Comfort.”

Over the years, all three performers became such outsized media personalities that it’s easy to forget the greatness of their recordings and live performances. Sinatra’s reworking of his Capitol material is looser than the originals – more Sinatra doing Sinatra than being Sinatra – but they give you a good feel for his ‘60s ring-a-ding-ding swagger. Martin’s sides are among his most loved, and Davis’ proves just how skilled and soulful he was as a vocalist. This is a good sample of what these performers were doing in the studio, with a 16-page booklet filled with period photos and liner notes adapted from Bill Zehme’s The Way You Wear Your Hat: Frank Sinatra and the Lost Art of Livin’. For a taste of the trio in action as a live act, check out the CD/DVD set The Ultimate Rat Pack Collection: Live & Swingin’, or look for the hard-to-find The Rat Pack Live at the Sands and Summit in Concert. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

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