December 7, 2012

Ray Stevens: Golden LP Series, Part 36...

Welcome once more to the home stretch of the Golden LP Series. We're still in 2008 but closer to the end of the year as Ray delivers an amazing CD titled Ray Stevens Sings Sinatra...Say What??. It's a 10 song project that features Ray covering some of the standards made famous by Sinatra, all did in the Ray Stevens style. There are a few renditions that remain somewhat close to the originals but by and large the majority of the recordings adopt a jazzy/early R&B delivery. A couple of the songs are shortened, musically...huge fans of Sinatra will spot this right away. If you're not a die hard Sinatra fan and simply want to be entertained by Ray Stevens covering the songs made famous by Frank Sinatra then you'll love this CD, in my opinion. I'm not as familiar with some of the songs to know if any lyrics have been omitted but based on the songs that I am familiar with I do know that some of the longer passages of music found in the originals is cut out in favor of, as mentioned, a more bouncy delivery.

The project kicks off with "I've Got You Under My Skin" from the pen of Cole Porter. In fact, glancing at the songwriter credits, Porter's got the first three tracks: "I've Got You Under My Skin", "Night and Day", and the irresistible sing-a-long of "I Get a Kick Out of You". Ray incorporates an echo chamber on "All the Way" and then gets to lighten the mood even more with a couple more of my favorite Sinatra songs, "High Hopes" and "Witchcraft".

Ray closes out the CD with what might be four of Sinatra's biggest commercial hits. "The Tender Trap" is track seven. There's a jazzy feeling throughout the recording and as a listener you can hear how Ray lovingly gets into the early R&B sounds that he grew up hearing. This is followed by "Young at Heart" which I've liked since the moment I heard it. Prior to Ray's recording there were three distinctly different hit recordings of the song. Obviously it was recorded by Sinatra but strangely enough the versions that I was more familiar with were the recordings did by Bing Crosby as well as Jimmy Durante. Ray's version incorporates various harmonies in the background accomplished more than likely through the overdub process. Unlike previous recordings by others, Ray delivers a solid, harmonious performance throughout as if it were performed by an actual choir of singers. This is an example of Ray's creativity in the studio once again. The masterpiece of the CD is track 9, "Strangers in the Night". It's a faithful rendition, pretty much, but it delves nicely into a shoobie-doobie doo-wop flavoring at certain moments, too. The CD closes with the inspirational "That's Life"...who on Earth has never heard that song at some point in their lives? Sinatra's vocal recording was very forceful while Ray's rendition is less forceful but more soothing. Ironically there was no cover version of "New York, New York" but I do recall seeing a clip of Ray performing the song at a venue and he had his band and back-up singers all standing in a row in a mock of The Rockettes as the finale of the song was sung. I saw that clip several years before the release of this CD and so I was surprised that the song didn't make the final cut...considering how synonymous with Sinatra the song happens to be.

Ray Stevens Sings Sinatra...Say What?? was released exclusively at Ray's web-store in 2008. It was later available in more wider distribution the following year. I bought my copy at the merchandise table at a Ray Stevens concert I attended in Renfro Valley, Kentucky. When I purchased my copy it hadn't even been put up for sale to the general public yet as it was only being sold at his concerts. For those who don't know if you attend his concerts chances are you'll be able to purchase CD's or DVD's that the general public doesn't have access to yet. This CD remains an obscurity even with the wider distribution due to a couple of future releases from Ray that overshadowed this unheralded gem. The fact that it didn't receive much publicity upon it's release also played a factor in it's current obscurity. In the next installment of the Golden LP Series I'll take a look at the first of two releases in 2009. That particular year began rather quietly for Ray but by November/December 2009 some big time news was being made. Until we get to late 2009, though, we have a couple more studio projects to spotlight as I lead up to the release that re-launched Ray Stevens into the stratosphere once again.

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