It's hard to believe that a Sammy Davis Jr. box set retrospective was not released until 1999. One simple reason for the delay is that Davis' discography is a licensing nightmare, so the initial triumph of Warner Archives/Reprise/Rhino's four-disc Yes I Can! The Sammy Davis, Jr. Story is that it brings together material controlled by Time Warner, EMI-Capitol, Universal, and the Davis estate. But another reason why a Sammy Davis, Jr. box set may not have been an immediate priority is that recording was never his primary medium. Davis was first and foremost a live performer with an act that included singing, dancing, and impressions; everything else -- Broadway shows, films, television, record-making -- was secondary. Despite being possessed of a clear, powerful baritone and precise diction, Davis was always more a performer than a singer. His repertoire as presented here is dominated by songs written for stage and movie musicals by the cream of the interwar pop songwriters. Davis renders this material well, but the lyrics rarely mean much to him beyond being vehicles for his own self-expression (vocal effects, comic interjections, etc.). When this began to change in 1961, it was because a highly self-referential performer found a songwriter, Leslie Bricusse, whose subject was self-absorption. Writing for musicals, Bricusse secondarily provides Davis with material he sings with unprecedented conviction, because it allows him to explore his own dreams and doubts. The claims for Sammy Davis, Jr.'s importance as an all-around entertainer cannot be disputed by anyone who has seen him perform in any medium, and strictly as a recording artist, much of that appeal comes across. Yes I Can! The Sammy Davis, Jr. Story is more the statement of a magnetic personality than it is a collection of meaningfully sung songs, but it is no less impressive for that.
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2
Track Listing - Disc 3
Track Listing - Disc 4