The Rat Pack

Simply Rat Pack: Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada

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The title and packaging of Simply Rat Pack might inadvertently give the impression that this British four-CD, budget-priced box set of recordings by Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr. features the three giants of 20th century entertainment sharing the stage or studio together. The artwork on the front, depicting the famous Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada sign (but no photos of the artists), doesn't do much to alter that impression, and neither does the information on the back cover, basically a listing of the tracks. The three did often perform (and even tour) together, but this set is not a documentation of the trio trading songs and banter. Instead, it devotes two discs to Sinatra, one to Martin and one to Davis, drawing from different periods of their respective discographies. The Sinatra discs spotlight some of the singer's earliest recordings, dating from the late '40s and early '50s, his years with Columbia Records (before Sinatra had ever met Martin or Davis). Backed by Axel Stordahl & His Orchestra, Sinatra puts his distinctive stamp on such postwar nuggets as "Stormy Weather," "Ol' Man River" and "Where or When," his trademark phrasing style not yet fully formed but well on the way. The Martin disc also digs back to the earliest part of his career, beginning with four tracks the singer cut for the small Diamond label in 1946 before signing to Capitol. The rest of the set draws from other independent recordings he cut for labels such as Apollo and Embassy, and also offers a monologue and comedy bit from a '60s performance at the Sands Hotel in Vegas. Of the four CDs, the Davis set is arguably the most musically vibrant, featuring both studio and live recordings from various sources and periods, among them the early Top Ten hit "Something's Gotta Give," Davis' definitive delivery of "What Kind of Fool Am I?" and such standard fare of the era as "I've Got You Under My Skin," "The Lady Is a Tramp" and "The Birth of the Blues." Finally, the second Sinatra disc continues its cherry-picking from the Columbia catalog, assembling highlights from the era including "Autumn in New York," "Stella by Starlight," "Blue Skies" and the Sinatra perennial "One for My Baby (And One More for the Road)," one of several songs from this early period that would remain part of his repertoire till the end.

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