Frankie Laine

The Wheels of a Dream

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Billed as "Frankie Laine's first all new studio recording in over 20 years" and released shortly before his 85th birthday, The Wheels of a Dream is both a testament to the singer's success at preserving much of his voice, and a record of its inevitable deterioration. In his prime, Laine possessed a vibrant, forceful instrument (you might say he was the Meat Loaf of his day), and one can easily imagine what he might have done with it on such selections as the vocal showcases "They Call the Wind Maria" (from Paint Your Wagon) and "Come Back to Me" (from On a Clear Day You Can See Forever). He can't soar as he once could, but, like such predecessors as Frank Sinatra (whose voice declined much sooner) and Billie Holiday, he has learned to use his breathlessness, his effort to hit notes and, especially, the more conversational aspects of his phrasing to remain an effective interpreter. And, he can still pick his shots, occasionally holding a note the way he used to. In a sense, all this is wrapped up in the lead-off title track, from the musical, Ragtime. In his youth, Laine would have simply roared through this high-spirited song, and in so doing would probably have missed the tragic foreshadowing implied in its boastfulness. (The character who sings it in the show dies without fulfilling any of its predictions.) In his old age, Laine catches the sadness beneath the song's hopeful declarations. He also achieves other subtle effects that previously would have seemed beyond him -- a wistfulness in "Scarlet Ribbons," a sense of genuine affection in "How Do You Keep the Music Playing." If "Young at Heart" seems an inevitable choice (he seems determined to try his hand at several songs from his heyday that were the exclusive possession of other singers), it may never have been as sincerely, or knowingly, sung. The Wheels of a Dream is Frankie Laine's autumnal triumph.

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