Valentine’s Day – depending on your walk of life, it’s either a splendid day of warm, romantic thoughts and a gimme so far as “gettin’ some tonight,” or it’s a Hallmark sham of an institution to remind us that all our friends are happily married and having kids, but we’re about to dip our Doritos into another vat of guacamole all alone. Since I’m flying solo this year, guess who’s fattening up on avocado?
You don’t have to be a heartless cynic to see the strings attached to this high holiday of chocolate-covered, heart-shaped, red crepe emotion. Take, for instance, Sony Legacy’s From The Heart collection. Eight CDs cut and pasted together to capitalize celebrate the spirit of l’amour, all representing a different demographic: Billie Holliday and Miles Davis if you love it jazzy, Babyface if you love it smooth and sensitive, The Isley Brothers if you don’t mind a little rugburn with your affection, Dolly Parton if you like doin’ the nasty while the livestock watches, and Air Supply if the woman in your life is actually a dude (sorry, cheap shot.)
But what to make of Frank Sinatra’s From the Heart? It doesn’t seem right to co-opt the Chairman of the Board for such a crass cash-in, and besides, we remember him more for his zingers and sad songs than for mushy love. “The Lady Is a Tramp”? How about “One for My Baby (And One More for the Road)”? Worse, it’s the same album the label released last year under the umbrella of Beautiful Ballads & Love Songs, so not only are they messing around with Ol’ Blue Eyes, they’re regifting him too. Yet there is one saving grace to this: if you are not an aficionado and have been looking to get your feet wet, this is an affordable starter set that’s full of appeal.
Starting with a jivey take on Irving Berlin’s perennial “Blue Skies,” heading into Hoagy Carmichael’s gorgeous “Star Dust” and moving through some of the Great American Songbook’s most stellar examples, it’s amazing how anyone in the new millennium would dare attempt new versions. The standout is, as ever, “September Song” from the musical mind of Kurt Weill, complete with a gorgeous arrangement.
Is this CD the soundtrack to love, or just as rude as any other quickly slapped-together holiday tie-in? It’s a little of both, but the fact that it is a montage slapped together with gold and silver pieces elevates it way above what it probably deserves to be — a last minute gift item snagged at the 7-11 with the weird and wilted “bouquet” of roses in a plastic tube. If you’ve been wondering how to get into the wonderful world of Frank Sinatra, this is a relatively painless gateway.