Friday, July 24, 2009

Michael Fremer Review

I am very proud to continue our new feature (look for this every Friday), music reviews that are written by the senior contributing editor of Stereophile magazine- Michael Fremer. It has been a pleasure to speak with Michael and learn more about audio sound and equipment. In fact, his new DVD, "It's A Vinyl World, After All" has hit the shelves and is selling out very quickly. This is a must have for anybody who loves vinyl, it is a true masterpiece.

Additionally, make sure to stop by his site, and bookmark it for further exploration. I certainly want to thank Michael for the exclusive rights to reprint his fantastic material.

Frank Sinatra (reissue)
Sings For Only the Lonely

Capitol/Mobile Fidelity MFSL 1-326 180g mono LP

Produced by: Voyle Gilmore
Engineered by: N/A
Mixed by: N/A
Mastered by: Rob LoVerde

Review by: Michael Fremer

One of the first “concept” albums, Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely invited listeners back in 1958 to pull up a chair and share the singer’s misery exquisitely expressed in a carefully collected set of tunes given sensitive, sumptuous backdrops by the late, great Nelson Riddle.

That these twelve heavily orchestrated tracks were recorded live in the studio two days in May of 1958 and two days in June is a feat that probably would not be possible to achieve today.

When first issued in mono, the album contained 12 tracks but at the dawn of the stereo LP, Capitol erred on the side of caution and omitted “Spring Is Here” and “It’s a Lonesome Old Town.” When Mobile Fidelity released its Frank Sinatra box set in the 1980s, it added the missing tracks to its stereo version.

This time around Mo-Fi has chosen to release the original mono mix and while the stereo version has its own enticing qualities, the choice was correct. The stereo version puts Sinatra far forward center stage bathed in reverb and offers extreme stereo orchestral separation. It may have been exciting to hear in 1958 but today it sounds extreme, though it really does make you feel as if you’re in the big Capitol soundstage.

The mono edition, by comparison, still keeps Sinatra up front in a moderately hollow-sounding, darkened room with the orchestra skillfully stacked in three dimensions well behind him. It’s a less literate, more organic, more atmospheric whole that better accommodates the morose, regretful emotions that Sinatra delivers powerfully while skillfully avoiding even a grain of bathos. Riddle's sumptuous arrangements for strings, achingly regretful brass and woodwinds cushion the emotional blows even as they amplify them.

Sinatra’s “What’s New” puts Linda’s later remake to shame, but she’d probably agree. Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen wrote the title tune specifically for the album and it sets the appropriate downer mood. There’s no relief among the twelve tunes, ending with the Arlen/Mercer talk-to-the-bartender great “One For My Baby (And One More For the Road).”

If you’ve ever had your heart broken, be prepared to relive the experience track after track (and if you’ve never had the experience you’ve really never lived fully), enjoying every weepy minute.

Mo-Fi’s reissue is warmer and fuller than the original pressing I have. It’s not quite as immediate as the original or as transparent, but it wins in the atmospherics department and since there’s no compression whatsoever and clearly some was applied to the original, it breathes naturally allowing Sinatra’s full dynamic flow to be expressed even if he also seems ever so slightly muffled (though that will be system-dependent). Mastering engineer Rob LoVerde says he put up the tape and it sounded so good he cut it flat, so what you hear is what’s on the tape. If you’re skeptical about mono, give this one a try. It may not be wide, but it’s deep.

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