Pulled out some Frank Sinatra CDs that came my way after my dad died this morning, to provide the kind of non-demanding background music that helps me to concentrate when marking exams.
It’s many years since I listened to some of this stuff. I had a copy of Songs For Swingin’ Lovers on vinyl many years ago, and Come Dance/Fly With Me on cassette. This would have been in the mid-1980s, and hearing Come Fly With Me again after all these years took me back to the early days in my first car, pootling along the back roads in the orange Beetle with its noisy aircooled engine and (usually) blown exhaust. I put more exhausts on that car than I have ever put on all my subsequent cars.
Songs for Swingin’ Lovers, which dates from 1956 is a superbly produced record, sounding as fresh and as clean today as it did back then – and, crucially, fresher and cleaner than many more recent records. I’ve got a taste for a nice-sounding record. Here are some other favourites:
Beatles for Sale
No such list would be complete without this. The Beatles’ first two albums sound thin to my ears. A Hard Day’s Night is a great leap forward, and then, a few months later, came this, with its beautiful mix of electric and acoustic guitars, piano, hammond organ, and vocal harmonies. It sounds plumper and more rounded, pleasing to the ears, and never grates. Help! sounded great, too, of course, but this was the beginning of an extraordinary run of wonderfully produced sounds.
Alan Jackson – Like Red on a Rose
I actually don’t like many of the songs on this, but it’s a great example of why Alan Jackson’s records are the best-sounding recordings coming out of Nashville. They’re considerably quieter-sounding than almost everything else, for a start. No loudness wars here, just beautiful sound separation and fine musicianship.
Kelly Willis – Easy
I’ve written about this record before. For a few years it always surprised me when it came on in the car, because I rarely recognised the songs immediately, but always thought it (whatever song it was) sounded great. Mostly acoustic, and a great production job on a voice that can sound awkwardly nasal on other records.
Connor Christian and Southern Gothic – New Hometown
Still getting a lot of plays around here, and still my recommendation for anyone looking for something new that is absolutely brilliant (forget the Silver Seas, this is where it’s at). It also has the capacity to make you sit up in the car when a track comes on, because it sounds lush.
Deana Carter – I’m Just a Girl
I hate it when an artist hits a peak like this and then wanders off track. This 2003 collection was such a high point, and nothing she did afterwards (and there hasn’t been much of it) was any good. Her husky voice is well balanced here with a gentle country rock production job.
Lou Reed – Coney Island Baby
Another nicely understated production, quieter than most you hear, and everything in the best possible taste. Unless you listen to the words.
Tift Merritt – Tambourine
Mr Drakoulis’ production on this makes it sound unlike any other Tift Merritt record. I love her music, but often yearn for more like this. Mike Campbell on guitar, and a sense of energy and urgency in the room.
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – Damn the Torpedoes
Speaking of Mike Campbell.
Wynonna Judd – The Other Side
Smooth: a strong voice and a strong collection of songs produced within an inch of its life.
Cry – Faith Hill
My guilty pleasure. About 9,000 instruments on each track, and not remotely country, but I still think it sounds great.