Sammy Davis, Jr.

The Essentials

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The Essentials Review

by William Ruhlmann

Warner's The Essentials series of discount-priced compilations is its answer to Universal's "20th Century Masters -- The Millennium Collection" best-ofs and EMI's "Classic Masters." In each case, the single discs are the length of old LPs and sell for a few bucks less than a regular album. The Sammy Davis, Jr. title draws on the singer's eight-year tenure at Warner's Reprise label, 1961-1969. By the time Davis got to Reprise, hit singles for pre-rock pop singers like him tended to be rare, and while the album features all of his Top 20 hits for the label, that's only three tracks: "What Kind of Fool Am I," "The Shelter of Your Arms," and "I've Gotta Be Me." For the other nine selections on the 34-and-a-half-minute disc, compiler David McLees (who also assembled the four-CD box set Yes I Can! The Sammy Davis, Jr. Story in 1999) has picked representative performances from Davis' studio and live albums, picking a group of show tune standards that Davis handles with his usual assurance. The result is a reasonable précis of his career on Reprise, although it doesn't actually justify the album's title, since there are plenty of other essential Davis tracks not included, both on Reprise and on other labels.

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