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Ol' Blue Eyes, of course, is the late Frank Sinatra, arguably the greatest interpreter of popular American music who ever lived. Guitarist Lou Volpe (who doesn't sing) remembers Sinatra on this entertaining assortment of thirteen tunes associated with the Chairman of the Board (and leader of the Rat Pack) plus a special tribute, "Europa," which closes the album.
Why the guitar, and not the voice? As noted, Volpe's no singer, and the reasoning behind the encomium is well explained in an accompanying press release (the album has no liner notes): "Sinatra was known not only for his wonderful voice, but also for his absolutely impeccable phrasing and timing, and for his spectacular interpretive skills that made it sound as if every lyricist had written the song specifically for [him] to sing." It is Sinatra's peerless phrasing and timing that Volpe seeks to parallel, and from that vantage point the album may be deemed by and large successful.
Volpe certainly comes equipped with the requisite tools for the task at hand: unerring technique, secure phrasing and an obvious fondness for the music and Sinatra's approach to it. Having said that, these are clearly Volpe's portrayals, not Sinatra's, even though Ol' Blue Eyes and his definitive renditions are never far away. When all is said and done, the guitar is not the human voice, and what emerges is a skillful guitarist rebuilding a part of Sinatra's repertoire without benefit of the architect's incomparable talent and charisma. In other words, this is a remembrance, earnest and well-performed, replicating Sinatra's music but not his singular persona.
As to the music, it is for the most part as familiar as the face in one's mirror. Alongside the customary evergreens from the Great American Songbook are a handful of themes that Sinatra made essentially his own: "It Was a Very Good Year," "One for My Baby," "That's Life," "The Best Is Yet to Come" (the last a precept carved into Sinatra's headstone). Although the choice of songs is admirable, some may say that Sinatra was never closely aligned with "Softly as I Leave You" (a Matt Munro staple) or even "All the Things You Are" (even though he certainly sang both of them). While Volpe carries out much of the melodic and improvisational work, he doesn't go it alone. The rhythm accompaniment consists of keyboards (Delmar Brown, Mel Davis or Onaje Allan Gumbs), bass (Stanley Banks or Leo Traversa), percussion (Gary Fritz) and drums (Buddy Williams, Sipho Kunene on "I've Got You Under My Skin").
What we have is a talented contemporary jazz guitarist, comparable to many others, performing a series of songs linked in some way to the great Frank Sinatra. It's a nice way to remember Ol' Blue Eyes, even though there are doubtless many enthusiasts who would rather put a Sinatra record on the turntable (or whatever passes for that these days), kick back and be astonished once more by The Voice.
I’ll Remember April; Speak Low; It Was a Very Good Year; You Go to My Head; A Foggy Day; One for My Baby; The Days of Wine and Roses; That’s Life; Softly as I Leave You; The Best Is Yet to Come; I Get a Kick Out of You; All the Things You Are; I’ve Got You Under My Skin; Europa.
Lou Volpe: guitar, keyboards; Delmar Brown: keyboards; Mel Davis: keyboards; Onaje Allan Gumbs: keyboards; Stanley Banks: bass; Leo Traversa: bass; Buddy Williams: drums; Sipho Kunene: drums (13); Gary Fritz: percussion.