The Best of the Columbia Years: 1943-1952
This four-CD set stands midway between the 12-CD Complete Collection 1943-1952 box (which is worth every cent, for those who can afford it) and the single-CD 15-song Essential Frank Sinatra: The Columbia Years -- in its favor, along with an affordable price, is its thorough and wide-ranging overview of the least well-known part of Frank Sinatra's career. Scholars and listeners with long memories over 70 aside, the chances are that no more than a dozen of its 97 tracks will be known to most of Sinatra's fans. And it does offer a detailed look at the singer's evolution, from a big-band era balladeer into a new breed of vocalist, just inches away from the defining Vegas swinger of his Capitol years -- the 97 songs here cover a significant chunk of that Columbia library (although like the 12-disc box, it doesn't include any of the singer's V-Disc sides that constituted just about his only recorded output for the first year of his solo career, or the radio performances that have been licensed in more recent years to augment his Cole Porter and Rodgers & Hammerstein catalogs); additionally, this set is better for the more casually minded serious fan, in that it avoids the missteps imposed upon Sinatra by Mitch Miller, which require explanation for the uninitiated. The sound is state-of-the-art and the source materials have been treated with exceptional care, thus giving the music its best hearing in history, and certainly since the original 78 rpm releases; indeed, much of what's here never showed up on vinyl, and those that did often didn't get represented long or well. The annotation is superb, and the booklet is well illustrated. The set also exists in two different editions: the original long-box shaped release, a foot tall with the type in large font, and also as a less expensive CD-jewel case-sized set in a slipcase, with smaller print and photos.