February 2009

Frank Sinatra - Nice 'n' Easy
Capitol/Mobile Fidelity MFSL 1-317
Format: LP
Originally released: 1960
Reissue released: 2008

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ***
Overall Enjoyment ***1/2

Frank Sinatra - Only the Lonely
Capitol/Mobile Fidelity MFSL 1-326
Format: LP
Originally released: 1958
Reissue released: 2008

Musical Performance *****
Recording Quality ***1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

by Marc Mickelson

Frank Sinatra's towering public persona -- as a movie star, Las Vegas insider, and A-list celebrity -- could occasionally overshadow his singular ability as an interpreter of contemporary songs, but these two Mobile Fidelity reissues are potent reminders of Sinatra's immense musical talent, showing it off with two very different collections of tunes recorded during his most productive era.

Only the Lonely from 1958 features Nelson Riddle arrangements that are pensive and brooding, perfect for these barroom ballads, "...the ones the fellows sing in a dimly lighted club at about 2 o'clock in the morning, when everybody's gassed," as Sinatra explained them. His interpretations are definitive, imparting gravity without turning pitying. Coming two years later in 1960, Nice 'n' Easy also features Nelson Riddle arrangements, but this time of sunnier mid-tempo tunes befitting the lounging, cardigan-clad Sinatra on the cover. During my childhood, my mom played her copy of this album ceaselessly. The bouncy chorus to the title cut is practically a part of my DNA.

A mono original of Only the Lonely sounds like so many albums of its era: slightly peaky in the treble and upper midrange so as to compensate for the limited fidelity of the hi-fi equipment of the day. The MoFi version is far more evenhanded, the music coming from a blacker background and displaying wider dynamic range because of it. Nice 'n' Easy is a little more forward and just as dynamic. The review copy was marred by a noisy right channel on side one and low-level groove noise in both channels on side two. Only the Lonely was very quiet throughout.

These are not the first Mobile Fidelity releases of these albums; both were part of the company's celebrated Sinatra 16-LP set released in 1983. I don't know which versions are better, but I'd bet on the newer ones, which were remastered with MoFi's GAIN 2 Ultra Analog system: a Studer tape player with customized electronics and handcrafted cutting amps that drive the Ortofon cutting head of a Neumann VMS-70 lathe. Master tapes are played back at half-speed to best capture musical information. Put all that hardware to good use, guys, and give us reissues of the others!