For a few months now, Keely Smith’s new CD, Keely Sings Sinatra, has been showing up at collector shows such as the ones in Amityville and White Plains, and fans of classic pop vocals have been snapping it up. The hitch is that it hasn’t been officially released yet. Smith recorded this impressive package back in 1995, before Sinatra was officially off the road. Apparently, some overzealous fan or merchant got hold of an advance copy, and started toasting clones on his computer and selling them to specialty dealers. Which should, if anything, illustrate to the major labels the demand for a project of this caliber.
Although Sinatra tributes have been abundant since the reported death of the Chairman last May (if Keith Richards were alive today, he’d be singing a tribute to Frank—oh wait…), Keely’s disc flies directly in the face of the questionable likes of Manilow Sings Sinatra and Paul Anka’s new overdubbed duet on “My Way.” Unlike the others, Smith, who herself crooned real-live duets with Sinatra in 1958 and 1963 (husband Louis Prima wasn’t her only Italian partner), doesn’t just re-sing Sinatra’s songs but actually gets under his skin. Backed by solidly swinging orchestrations from Sammy Nestico and Billy May, Smith proves that, pushing 70, she still has all her chops. Her Cherokee-Irish-Virginia accent (“Ah did what Ah had to do”) is stronger than ever, and there’s a punch to her delivery now that had yet to develop back in the days when she and Prima—the world’s first adult rock’n’roll act—put Vegas on the map. Original lines like “I’d even punch out Rona B for you” (in “Until the Real Thing Comes Along”) and “Olé! You mothers!” (at the end of “South of the Border”) revel in a gloriously Frankish sensibility. I’ll leave it for you to decide whether to buy it now, or wait until the artist is in a position to profit from the sale.