~ with a touch of Tommy

Immersing myself in Peter Marshall’s wonderful and fun homage to Frank Sinatra and Tommy Dorsey’s early 1940’s musical run — Let’s Be Frank… With a Touch of Tommy — turned out to be a very personal experience for me.

My first exposure to the Great American Songbook came at the hands of Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington and Tommy Dorsey … the records I dug out of my dad’s wartime record collection back in the 60’s (he was a fighter pilot in Europe during WWII).

Singing out in front of these amazing bands were the likes of Dick Haymes, Tex Beneke, Marion Hutton, The Moderaires, Jo Stafford and the Pied Pipers … there were many many more including, of course, a young crooning sensation named Frank Sinatra.

Peter Marshall and the amazing team of singers and musicians he assembled do a great job of honoring the stars of the era on this gorgeously produced album. The sense of respect for the period artists and regard for the material is clear, and Alan Copeland’s refreshed arrangements and fun turns with the lyrics take it to a level beyond respect.

With the world quite literally hanging in the balance…

Deep emotion permeated the music of the day … melancholy ballads of separation and lost love … swinging “live for today” dance numbers … love songs spanning the full gamut from sappy sweet to “tear your heart out” torch songs … hilarious quirky numbers from Johnny Mercer intended to distract the mind today from the scary and serious tomorrows to come.

Trying times & astounding people…

This music to me — more than the music of any other era — represents the very best of humanity. It emerged and flourished in the face of death and destruction the world over at a time when there were no clear assurances the good guys would prevail.

When folks in London were digging themselves out of wreckage every morning from the bombing the night before, and hundreds of young men climbed into airplanes every day knowing — knowing — that as many as half of them would be dead or POWs by the end of that day.

It’s hard to believe this jaunty, swing’n, lilting, loving music — so full of life — was the contemporary of that despairing, soul trying time. With apologies in advance to Brokaw and Churchill … I truly believe this music buttressed “the greatest generation” during their “finest hour” and made a difference in the ultimate outcome.

Back to Let’s Be Frank

OK, with my soft spot for the war era big band music and overall sentimentality now well established, let’s get back to talking about Peter Marshall’s latest release.

I find Let’s Be Frank… With a Touch of Tommy to be somewhat unusual if not unique. The title clearly calls it as a concept album, but rarely do you see such a tight artist/material focus on a concept album … Dorsey/Sinatra hits from 1940-1943 is about as thematically tight as you can get, and yet the breadth of emotion and style exhibited here is expansive and airy.

Also unusual on this LP was the front to back collaborative nature of the production. Peter deservedly receives top billing but Alan

Alan Copeland

Copeland’s deft hand with arrangements, baton and extensive lyrics work underpin one of the most collaborative vocal/musical efforts you will find today.

There is extensive and elegant interaction throughout the set list between Peter and The Dream Weavers. “Extensive” and “Elegant” are not hyperbole here … the sheer volume of background lyrics — all refreshed and rewritten with allusions to today — and the constant weave, interaction and role reversals between Peter and Sally Stevens’ “Weavers”  is impressive (and exhausting!)

Calabria Foti

I expected Calabria Foti to dive in with a couple of duets, but Ms. Foti’s wonderful vocals appear on virtually every number … and she delivers full duet parts on four songs.

The collaboration extends to the musical performance as well with Copeland doing a masterful job displaying the rare talents of Alan Broadbent on piano and Bob McChesney’s sexy smooth trombone throughout the production. At once folded into the wonderful orchestra and then out front soloing … these guys are balanced perfectly and heard from beginning to end on this LP.

A Performance…

Concept albums can often benefit from an ordered play list flow. Whether intended or unintended playing them straight through, from beginning to end, sometimes enhances the thematic effect of the listening experience.

Let’s Be Frank intentionally sets out to deliver a performance event feel. The LP kicks off with a cool intro medley … leading out with the swinging title track written by Alan Copeland that flashes us back to the early 1940’s and sets the stage for the “session” to come. The LP wraps with Peter thanking the team, closing out the “performance” and reminding you to … “Put your dreams away for another day”. Nice.

Bob McChesney

As always, the compete track list can be found below, and though this album is stellar from front to back I will hit on a handful of my favorite Let’s Be Frank numbers.

Peter follows the title song in the intro medley track with a couple of sad separation/love songs “This Love Of Mine” and the 1940 chart topper “I’ll Never Love Again” … Peter’s melodious, smooth baritone vocals emote the love, loneliness and longing these songs wonderfully express.

Alan C. and Peter pick up the tempo with a swing version of “All Or Nothing At All”  that starts a run of superb tracks … “It Started All Over Again” with Calabria Foti’s initial duet landing in all it’s sultriness and an awesome demonstration of the Peter/Dream Weavers interplay  with a fun, Chesney trombone and Broadbent laden “The One I Love Belongs To Somebody Else”.

As I re-listen to this recording…

I think could name each song in the set list as a favorite … “Polkadots and Moonbeams” with Alan Copelands neat intro line “the best things happen while you’re dancing” (!) … the beautiful and atmospherically sad duet with Ms Foti “The Night We Called It A Day”.

And the last three singing tracks are personal favorite numbers that Peter, Calabria, The Dream Weavers and the orchestra render in 40’s big band period perfection … Irving Berlin’s “Be Careful It’s My Heart”, “Street Of Dreams” and the Tommy Dorsey classic “Sentimental Over You”.

If you are a big band fan Let’s Be Frank… With a Touch of Tommy is a fun fresh take on the early war years that you should have in the fold. If you’re just starting to reach back to this amazing era of classic American standards music, do yourself a favor and give this album a listen … I’m sure it won’t be long before we see you at the fan club meetings!

BTW…

A couple of footnotes before the track list and VS ratings… first, Let’s Be Frank is not Peter’s only 40’s big band standards album. He released a 14 track LP called Boy Singer in 2001 that I have only heard on the TheStandardsChannel.com and from snippets on Peter’s website. What I have heard sounds great though, and I plan to snag Boy Singer and offer a review around mid summer … check back!

The last footnote is a follow-up well wish to Peter who very recently celebrated his 86th birthday. Peter was 85 when he performed and produced (along with Bob McChesney) this latest CD release … I am completely taken with Peter’s vitality, talent, commitment and sense of fun … all of which are demonstrated in spades on Let’s Be Frank. I only hope I wake up tomorrow — at 55 — with half the vimm and vigor Peter possesses!

Let’s Be Frank ~ with a touch of Tommy – Track list…

(VS_Guy ratings: “+++” pluses are good; “~” for meh to middling;  “- – -” minuses are not good)

Intro Medley: Let’s Be Frank/ This Love of Mine/ I’ll Never Smile Again 5:19 +++

All or Nothing At All 3:29 +++ If your toe’s not tapping … well, I’m afraid you may be dead.

It Started All Over Again* 4:24 ++++ classic period number and Calabria’s first feature duet …sultry goodness

The One I Love Belongs to Somebody Else 3:20 ++++ Alan Copeland’s “Weavers” lyrics, Bob’s trombone, AB’s piano… Costco!

Darn That Dream 4:00 +++ building to McChesney’s ‘bone obbligato

Will You Still Be Mine* 4:10 +++ another mandatory toe tapper

Polka Dots and Moonbeams 4:47 +++ the best things do happen while your dancing

The Night We Called It a Day* 4:02 +++ classic break-up ballad … beautiful and atmospheric Foti vocals

Be Careful, It’s My Heart 3:04 +++ great Broadbent piano and guitar from Sid Jacobs

10 Street of Dreams* 2:55 ++++ How does McChesney make that ‘bone sound so mournful? Ms Foti

11 Sentimental Over You 3:39 ++++ quintessential Dorsey… perfect balance with ‘Weavers and Bob M’s trombone

12 Thank You’s (Peter wraps and credits the team.) Put away your dreams for another day…

* Calabria Foti duet numbers (she appears throughout but is featured on these tracks)

 

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