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Sinatra at his most beguiling
on 27 July 2001
If ever an album proved Sinatra's ability to give unalloyed pleasure through sheer, easygoing charm, it is this. In many ways, 'Nice 'n' Easy' is the most undemanding of his Capitol collections, for it neither swings exuberantly nor explores the darker shades of loneliness and regret. You can play it at a dinner party without either giving your friends indigestion or reducing them to tears. However, this does not mean that 'Nice 'n' Easy' is a weak, shapeless or 'half-measure' album: the fact that it does not hit you over the head with its emotionalism, happy or sad, is what makes it such a beautifully judged masterpiece.
The twelve songs originally picked for inclusion on the LP (the finger-snapping title track was actually drafted in late in the day, and displaced Hoagy Carmichael's "The Nearness of You," which is fortunately included on the CD as a bonus track) are all essentially ballads, or sung as such, and there is plenty of tenderness and introspection here. What sets this 1960 album apart from 'Only the Lonely' or 'No-One Cares' is that the tone is elegiac rather than melancholy. This partly results from the choice of material: Sinatra was here very consciously revisiting old successes from the forties, as he was to do in the next few albums for both Capitol and Reprise ('Swingin' Session,' 'Come Swing With Me,' 'I Remember Tommy' and 'Point of No Return'). You can almost touch the nostalgia in this set, and Sinatra caresses these wonderful songs with a grown-up crooning that hints at regrets and losses as well as mature self-confidence.
The other contributory factor to the warm but wistful, 'autumnal' tone of 'Nice 'n' Easy' is, of course, the magical orchestration of Nelson Riddle. His charts are almost always beyond praise, and here he shows why so many singers, from Rosemary Clooney to Linda Ronstadt, have valued him: he always served the singer's needs and the needs of the material, rather than plugging a 'Nelson Riddle sound.' His arrangements here are easy on the brass and heavy on the strings, and the texture is all gossamer delicacy, complementing beautifully the coffee-dark sound of the ageing Sinatra voice.
Two last points in praise of this album in its CD form. First, it is expanded by very well-chosen bonus tracks. Apart from restoring 'The Nearness of You' - a particularly ravishing rendering of this lovely song - the producers have given us material recorded in the early fifties, again Riddle-orchestrated, which fits surprisingly well in tone. (This is a great strength of the Capitol CD reissues generally as against, say, some Verve albums which have nothing more to offer than a row of alternate takes - sometimes of just one number.)
Secondly - and this is, admittedly, a really minor point - the CD is exceptionally well-designed. Now I'm a sucker for fifties style, so I may be ludicrously biased, but I love the way in which the face of the disc and the inlay booklet use design elements from the original cover, and are in pastell-ish shades. So-called 'Easy Listening' CDs are usually pretty 'orrible to handle, but this one is really cool!