Frank Sinatra, Jr.

That Face!

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The elephant in the room is a whole lot bigger than it's ever been on Frank Sinatra, Jr.'s first studio album in ten years. While he's never really attempted to shed his birthright, claiming to be happy to stand in the shadow of his legendary father, neither has Sinatra Jr. ever deliberately attempted to mimic his dad as closely as he does on this collection of Tin Pan Alley-type classics and wannabe classics. Arranged in the big-band style of Sinatra Sr.'s greatest Capitol and Reprise works, That Face! is billed as a tribute to that era and, if one can resist being too analytical (or cynical) of the results -- on the surface, at least -- it lives up to that hype. It's not a difficult listen, and is at times rather enjoyable. For one thing, the famous Sinatra phrasing technique has been passed down to the progeny: Jr., who served as his father's musical director, learned plenty from his teacher. And he's got taste, too. In his early sixties at the time of this recording, Jr. leaves no doubt that his song preferences mirror the old man's. Although he cut one original composition here and tossed in a Barry Manilow-penned track as well, the best material comes from a handful of songwriting teams dating to the Sinatra Sr. era: Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen, Mack Gordon and Harry Warren, Sigmund Romberg and Oscar Hammerstein II, and Neal Hefti and Bobby Troup, whose "Girl Talk" features a vocal duet with jazz vocalist Steve Tyrell. Jr. is at home with these songs, and this familiarity isn't necessarily something to hold against him: if Frank Sinatra was your pop, and your genes happened to gift you with vocal qualities remarkably similar to his, chances are you wouldn't join a punk band either. Jr. leaves nothing to chance here, even calling upon the arrangements of Nelson Riddle and Don Costa (among others), regulars on his father's album credits. That said, there's no denying that, try hard though he might, Jr.'s chops ultimately fall far short of Dad's. While his tasteful delivery of standards such as "Cry Me a River" and "What a Diff'rence a Day Made" is laudable, one can't help but feel that the singer here is a lesser talent, a weaker, less original interpreter than his father and an artist short on ideas. The voice is thinner, the tonal qualities narrower, the intuitiveness not as pronounced. Sinatra Jr. himself has admitted that he was unhappy with his vocals on this set, stating that they were recorded while he was undergoing treatment for prostate cancer. While no one will fault him for making the effort during such trying times, and all will applaud him for his survival, That Face! probably should have waited an additional year or so, until the singer was up to the task. Pleasurable though it is at times, That Face! will never convince hard-liners that the "kid" is his dad's equal.

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