WHAT I’M SPINNING NOW

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This album, from 1962, was the last one Frank Sinatra made for Capitol Records. He had already announced his plan to leave the label in order to start his own, Reprise Records, and had begun recording tracks for release on Reprise, but he still owed Capitol one last LP under his old contract, and this is the LP he delivered, recorded in just two days.

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Its reputation has suffered from being considered a perfunctory effort by Sinatra done for contractual reasons only. It was left out of Mobile Fidelity’s legendary audiophile vinyl collection of Sinatra’s Capitol albums (above), and it’s relatively hard to find as a used LP, except in an abridged version issued later by Capitol as a low-budget title.

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Mobile Fidelity has just rectified its questionable decision to leave it out of its Sinatra box by issuing a fine 180-gram vinyl pressing of the complete album. It’s not one of Sinatra’s greatest Capitol LPs, but it’s hardly a negligible effort, either.

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Interestingly, Sinatra got Alex Stordahl (with Sinatra above in 1947) to arrange the numbers on Point Of No Return.  Stordahl, known for his swirling, sentimental (some might say syrupy) sound, had been Sinatra’s principal arranger during his years with Columbia.  The Stordahl sound worked well with Sinatra’s voice in his boy crooner phase, and Stordahl arranged Sinatra’s first sessions when he moved to Capitol, but Sinatra was reinventing his artistic persona at that point and quickly moved on to other arrangers who had a hipper, jazzier vibe — Billy May, Gordon Jenkins and, most notably, Nelson Riddle.

So it was undoubtedly something of a sentimental gesture by Sinatra to bring Stordahl back for his last recordings at Capitol, ending up where he had started off, so to speak, completing a circle.

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The album he and Stordahl created, however quickly, is quite fine.  Neither is going for big effects here, for anything profoundly expressive, but the craft of both men was such that they simply couldn’t just toss something off heedlessly.  These are good, solid interpretations of good, solid songs, inflected with Sinatra’s musical and emotional genius.  It’s by no means unworthy of the great body of work Sinatra created at Capitol, which remains one of the glories of our civilization.

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I would be remiss not to note that Point Of No Return has the coolest Sinatra album cover of all time — a Mad Men era illustration of the singer standing in front of the Plaza Hotel in NYC, next to the Sherman statue, in the rain, wearing a belt-less tan 50s type trench coat and a Stetson Nobel, smoking a cigarette.  Like the title of the album, it has a melancholy, valedictory feel.

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INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS

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There’s a line in a Bob Dylan song — “I know plenty of people put me up for a day or two” — that perfectly sums up everybody’s scrambling days, when you were between fixed abodes, between relationships, between steady jobs, between plans, between dreams . . . when you wore out every welcome you received because you didn’t know where the next welcome was coming from, when you were too proud to go home to mom and dad (and maybe you’d worn out their welcome, too), when you just didn’t know what the fuck you were going to do next.

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When you’re young you figure such days will pass, and they usually do, after a fashion, but you never really get over them.  Inside Llewyn Davis is about such days in the life of a struggling folksinger in New York in the early 1960s.  Its evocation of that time and place, that musical scene, is magical, but it’s the evocation of Llewyn’s scrambling life that makes the film memorable.

It’s not one of the Coen brothers’ most inspired efforts — the litany of Llewyn’s woes gets a bit repetitive after a while.  Once you realize that nothing is going to turn out well for Llewyn the narrative loses momentum.  And yet . . . Inside Llewyn Davis gets at something, portrays something, that few films ever have.

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[Image © Langdon Clay]

I spent many of my own scrambling days in New York in the 70s so the film brings back poignant memories, and a curious personal revelation.  I got all, or almost all of the things I dreamed about getting in the 70s and one by one they have all evaporated or come to seem hollow — and I feel today more like that scrambling kid in his 20s than I ever have since the 70s.  With one difference — I’m no longer looking for a home in this world, I mean, one that I can rely on.  I know that all homes are provisional, as provisional as sleeping on a couch in a friend’s living room.

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So it’s heartbreaking to see Llewyn Davis’s heartbreak as he looks for a home, a place for himself.  I want to slip him 20 bucks and tell him not to worry — tell him that he’s already as home as he’ll ever be, that life is a perpetual scramble, and worth the discombobulation.  Not that he’d listen, anymore than I would have when I was in my 20s.

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