Category: Frank Sinatra

All Folked Up: Frank Sinatra
(coverage from Joshua Radin, Anna Ternheim, Jason Mraz & more!)

January 26th, 2011 — 09:16 pm

My maternal grandfather was a huge Frank Sinatra fan: one of my most powerful memories of him, in fact, is of my grandparents dancing in their Florida living room, strangely graceful and oblivious to the watching world, their wistful smiles and laugh lines framing faces aglow with an otherwise unseen affection, the swell of strings and Sinatra’s voice pouring from the record player like a fog.    A year later, they would give up the house, move North, and start their relatively short decline towards death, but it’s here where I would remember them best: gliding in rare partnership, recapturing a lifetime I can only imagine.   

Like many of us just now starting to tip over into middle age, I suspect, my awareness of old-school singers like Frank Sinatra is peripheral, and predominantly second-hand. For my generation, the man is more present through satire than anywhere – that, and the fragments of original sound that clutter the stream, the pop cultural echoes that slip into commerce and language, marking class consciousness and an undeniable Americanism. Doo be doo be doo, that Jersey accent, the mafia posturing, the Mia Farrow connection: these things flit like retinal floaters in us all, and need not be rehashed, for they are eternal as our ancestors, are as much a part of who we are together as butterflies, Woodstock, or the fault line which threatens the land mass of California.

But let us give the man his proper due: a self-made man, confident and cool, Sinatra had an incredible impact and meaning for his time. Most relevantly, for our purposes, Ol’ Blue Eyes was known for a particularly stylized vocal delivery - a perfect-pitch power just right for Vegas, easy to parody but hard to get just right, one which always struck me as a bit over the top even in his more tender moments.  

To translate these songs in the folk idiom is to attempt a very different sort of success by definition, then: to find the emotional core in a way that seems more authentic, more organic, more about community than performer and performance.

Like Elvis, Sinatra was as much of an interpreter and arranger of song as anything, popularizing and reclaiming strand after strand of the pop, jazz, blues and showtunes canons, weaving them together through his own inimitable approach.   From an ethnographic standpoint, this fuzzy, often second-hand ownership of his song is a relatively strong case for the Rat Pack as a branch of the folkways, but it makes it hard to justify using that songbook as fodder for one of our Covered in Folk features, which tend to focus on songs sourced from original performance, not popular performance.  

But it does allow us to return to a much more fun lens – one which rears its head but occasionally here on Cover Lay Down, when we turn our attention to those who are often covered with a tongue-in-cheek flavor, even if sincerity results. Seldom-seen explorations in this vein have previously included Britney Spears, Modest Mouse, Punk, and Gangsta Rap, with Rihanna on deck for the coming months.    And sure enough, today’s coverage yaws wide, though it leans towards the folkie-gone-crooner side: from a multitude of indiefolk and Americana artists in gleeful lounge mode to Cat Power’s total indie-blues deconstruction of New York, New York to the sweet, gentle strains of Joshua Radin, who – as we’ve learned previously – can make even the Sesame Street theme song sound maudlin and coy.    

Listen, and enjoy.

Previously on Cover Lay Down: Hayward Williams covers Fred Astaire original (and Sinatra standard) One For My Baby.

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