Pros: Amazing rare recordings of Sinatra from during the '42-44 recording ban, including never-recorded-after songs
What should have been a momentous occasion, that of Frank Sinatra's signing to Columbia and striking out on a solo career after fronting for Harry James and Tommy Dorsey, was nearly silent due to a commercial recording ban enforced by the Musicians Union from mid-1942 to 1944. Because the ban affected instrumental musicians, vocal-only recordings were allowed, meaning that Sinatra and Axel Stordahl had to come up with alternate vocal-backed arrangements that may not have ordinarily been chosen. The second loophole was that instrumentals were allowed on V-Discs, free recordings for the sole use of GIs overseas that were supposed to be destroyed when the war ended (the Library of Congress was allowed to keep one of each disc for posterity).
Sinatra's V-Disc material encompasses 53 songs on two CDs, including material from airchecks as well as studio performances. There are many well-known Sinatra Columbia tunes such as All of Me, Nancy with the Laughing Face, Close to You, Ol' Man River, All the Things You Are, and She's Funny That Way, but many of the brightest gems are songs that Sinatra never got around to recording commercially, such as Long Ago and Far Away, You've Got a Hold On Me, Hot Time in the Town of Berlin, Just Close Your Eyes, Come Rain or Come Shine and Noel Coward's I'll Follow My Secret Heart.
Guests include Dinah Shore, The Pied Pipers and Tommy Dorsey. The remastering and clean-up of these decades-old songs is flawless, and Sinatra's charm is as fresh as ever. His transition from boy singer to teen idol shows him singing with remarkable poise and confidence, and Axel Stordahl's touch is unmistakable. The liner notes are courtesy of George Simon, Roy Hemming, and Will Friedwald. Amazingly, none of these 53 recordings are represented on Columbia's massive (and out-of-print) 12-CD Sinatra box set. This is absolutely essential listening for fans of Sinatra and 1940s popular music.