Frank Sinatra’s “Nice ‘n’ Easy Reviewed
US Enters Vietnam War, The IRA starts it’s fight against the British, John F Kennedy wins presidential Election , Chubby Chequer and The twist start a new dance craze, Soviet missile shoots down the US U2 spy plane, Aluminum Cans used for the first time, The US announces 3,500 American soldiers are going to be sent to Vietnam, Xerox introduces the first photocopier, Fidel Castro nationalized American Oil, sugar and other US interests in Cuba, OPEC is born…
The year is 1960 and that golden age (if you were a hetereosexual, middle aged, white American male) that existed since1945 was coming to an end. Things were on the horizon, trouble and change was brewing, and a simple subjective romantic dichotomy would be placed on the backburner as a cultural and political civil war was brewing, so close, but not yet. JFK was President, and Cuba hadn’t evolved into the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the States, the beloved USA who saved Western civilization and gave the world Hollywood and blue jeans, and jazz and rock and roll, was the true promised land.
And Frank Sinatra was at the top of everything. And to celebrate, Frank got together with his arranger Nelson Riddle and re-recorded some of his most popular songs through amazingly the title track Nice ‘n’ Easy was new. He rethought them a little, while they are ballads, he gives them a temperate, beautifully modulated performance. It reminds me of when I saw Sinatra at Radio City Music Hall, he didn’t need his voice to over power us, it was all in the phrasing, the tone, the physical presence, the skill beyond skill. And so here, he gave them neither the passion of his ballads (remember, Frank was coming off the devastating Who Are You?) not the jazz swing of his songs for swingin’ lovers styled horns blasting, no: these were smooth, cool, sweet, intelligent and extremely comfortable takes and from the title track, to “That Old Feeling” to “I’ve Got A Crush On You” to “Embraceable You” these are standard bearers and definitive; when Capitol released their breathtaking triple 1990 The Capitol Years, it was these versions they chose. Compare his “She’s Funny That Way” to Ella Fitzgerald, Ella was the queen of annunciation and she took it at a fast clip, there was a giggle lurking, Sinatra is laid back and lazy, he yawns his way through it and brings it to life even more thoroughly than one of the greatest interpreters of the American songbook by giving it less, leaning back to let a sax solo take over, when he comes backs he still isn’t refreshed, and when he lets loose towards the end, he still doesn’t slam it out.
Americans liked that, they liked the calmness of his performances enough to leave the album at number one for nine weeks. It is exceptionally good natured, the only mistake was a lounge lizard “Try A Little Tenderness” that pales in comparison to Sam Cooke’s version, otherwise from the opening strings of “Nice ‘N’ Easy” -in its own way as much a signature as the explosion on “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” (both are not vocal signatures,but both define Sinatra) to the surrender to calm “Dream” this is a joyful America at peace, everything was just great and nothing would ever change.
With the exception of “Tenderness” this is zen like all effort leading directly to a state of grace, if I had to choose an album to introduce Sinatra (actually,the great American songbook) to someone who had never heard it, this is the one I’d go with. It forces nostalgia for a time and place not worth feeling nostalgic about.