Frank Sinatra – Lucky Strike 'Lite-Up Time' Shows (2008)

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NICK DERISO: Frank Sinatra’s first popular peak is found not at the table of some ring-a-ding casino lounge but inside a transistor radio, as the young crooner swept to girl-crazy acclaim in the late 1940s.

Appearing on a variety of showcase programs, including the too-commercial “Your Hit Parade” (1943-44, and 1947-49) then his more personal “Songs By Sinatra” (1945-47) and finally here on “Lite-Up Time,” he sparked a frenzy of attention from bobbysox-clad junior misses — presupposing later sensations like Elvis and the Beatles.

The schedule for the Lucky Strike cigarette-sponsored “Lite-Up Time,” typical of the era, was part of what turned into a devastatingly difficult routine for Sinatra: This 15-minute program ran live Mondays through Fridays, and was done in and around a series of other concert and club performances — including a concurrent run at the legendary Copacabana, which featured singers as many as three times a night.

Too, he was warring with his producer at Columbia Records, Mitch Miller — the label had just begun to discover the financial windfalls of a quick-buck novelty song — as they worked on Sinatra’s initial long-player. Stupefying examples of the dreck foisted upon the singer during this period included the regrettable “One Finger Melody” and the unspeakable “Mama Will Bark,” thankfully nowhere to be found on this intriguing set of excerpts.

Instead, Sinatra is loose and emotionally available, usually appearing in front of an orchestra and chorus conducted by Jeff Alexander, who later wrote well-known film scores, including “The Tender Trap” and “Jailhouse Rock.” Another standout within the largely anonymous backing group on “Lite-Up Time,” issued in October by Acrobat Music, is trumpeter Ziggy Elman. He takes a stirring turn on “Everytime I Meet You” and then, doubling as conductor, on “I’ve Got a Crush On You,” both from 1949.

Fellow conductor Skitch Henderson and cornet player Bobby Hackett appeared on a number of Sinatra radio dates around this time — including this recording’s “Body and Soul,” from ’50. His warm duet with Dorothy Kirsten of “Some Enchanted Evening” is a standout, even if Sinatra can only confirm elsewhere that he always had a flair for corny in-concert banter.

No matter. Fans will thrill to instructive early renditions of future Sinatra standards like “I Only Have Eyes For You” and “All of Me,” done in 1949. He’s working toward an utter command of the long notes (modeled after former trombone-playing boss Tommy Dorsey) that would define his singing style.

These “Lite-Up Time” shows, which conclude here on April 1950, represent the very last examples of a sweeter, yet less nuanced sound by Sinatra. He had a throat hemorrhage just a month later, famously opening his mouth to sing at the Copa and producing nothing but a raspy exhalation.

Sinatra’s long recovery — both physically and as a hitmaker — led to deeper vocal shadings. He explored a new range that allowed him to bend notes to darker places, even while he worked on a more rhythmic delivery that accentuated the impact of a lyric.

Sinatra eventually returned in the middle-1950s with a firmer grasp on where he wanted to go artistically, expanding on the small-scale triumphs found during these shows to create his brilliant and immortal Capitol sound.

This is part of a series of new releases from Acrobat Music, including previously reviewed Miles Davis sessions recorded from New York clubs for radio and TV broadcasts in 1958-59.

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