It’s not quite clear why Frank Stallone has chosen to pursue classic big-band crooning, nor is it immediately apparent whether his is purely a project of nostalgia or something more ambitious. Upon first hearing his latest release, In Love In Vain
, one thing, however, becomes immediately obvious, namely the album’s undeniable quality.
Supported by a series of shrewd Sammy Nestico arrangements, an orchestra committed to dead-on note placement, and excellent production quality, each of the album’s twelve venerable standards swin – and swing hard. Possessed of powerful lungs and a solid ear, Stallone proves himself fully capable of assuming the big-band singer role. Deeply involved in all aspects of the swing era, Stallone has done more than perfect a singing style. He’s got it all down. The clothes, the tilted hat, the wistful looks, the debonair poses, all held together by a dash of irreverence and a healthy dose of old-fashioned masculine panache.
That said, there’s more to Stallone than garments and image. Vivacious throughout, Stallone’s voice remains insidiously smooth and infectiously cocksure, even as he approaches heartfelt ballads like “All of You,” “Beyond the Sea,” and the more sober “In Love In Vain.” Embracing many a Sinatra cue, Stallone exhibits a deliciously raw vulnerability on these selections, but where he really shines is on the album’s more up-tempo pieces like Rogers & Heart’s “I Wish I Were in Love Again.” This tune may be the album highlight, and if not, is certainly emblematic of Stallone’s approach. Revitalizing the song’s appeal with a tongue-in-cheek reading, Stallone emphasizes the original’s wickedly ironic lyric with a careful balance of gallant exuberance, wit, and a certain knowing professionalism. Reminding us that as seemingly astute and “progressive” as we may deem ourselves, there’s little that hasn’t been said before, and often better. Or perhaps what Stallone reveals is that every era has its context, and though supplanted by modern tempos, styles, and turns of phrase, the insights of yester-year often parallel the artistic and emotional discoveries of today.
As thought-provoking as Stallone’s celebration of Americana may be, In Love In Vain
is far from a cerebral affair. In fact, just the opposite. Stallone starts from the inside of each tune and works his way out, establishing a series of unique musical scenes. Employing in equal measure his musical and theatrical abilities, Stallone shows how essential it is for a singer to identify with the voice of his material. It takes more than vocal training to accomplish this, and Stallone reveals a remarkable ability to sing not only movingly, but convincingly.
Listening to “One for My Baby,” one can almost see the whiskey sodden bar-top, the bartender’s indifferent smirk, the rumpled lapels and rain soaked fedora of the song’s protagonist. Equally, when singing “Like Someone in Love” Stallone’s giddy outpouring brings forth images of extravagant bouquet gifts, the scent of cologne, and the slow gait of a man on his way home from a date, jacket slung over his shoulder as he contemplates the reopening of his heart.
With this album Stallone has provided something rare: a musical outing firmly entrenched in the styles, modes, and tonal decour of a bygone era which somehow simultaneously embraces the pleasures of nostalgia and the joys of resurrection. Put this one on when you want to smile, dance, and tap your foot to a rhythm you thought was old, but turns out to be new again.
Personnel: Frank Stallone: Vocals. All arrangements by Sammy Nestico and performed by the Sammy Nestico