Frank Sinatra - In the Wee Small Hours (1955), 6/10

In the Wee Small Hours, as an album experience, may be less moving than it was in the mid-fifties but still remains a stellar vocal jazz record. The record doesn't quite stand up to some of Sinatra's later albums but is always an enjoyable listen, especially considering its competition during this stage in music and its importance in bringing Sinatra back from the dead. This is the beginning of a love affair with Frank's melancholic masterworks. Although it is the weakest other than perhaps No One Cares, mainly due to the selection of almost all standards, it still does a stellar job of transporting you into a world of somehow soothing loneliness. The title track is one of his best songs both in performance and tone bar none and "Glad to Be Unhappy" sums up the idea (and the result) behind the project. It is interesting to note that Sinatra was struggling before this record in several ways and adds to the sincerity and impact of the melancholic song selections. While Gordon Jenkins' orchestral arrangements offer more feeling, Riddle obviously pairs well with this era and attitude from Sinatra. The orchestra feels appropriately personal, feeding Sinatra’s intimate vocal performances, despite being out of place and clunky in some very specific moments. His vocals are technically performed exceptionally well, but he was still discovering himself and his confidence was not quite at its prime. The arrangements are great too, but not the best even among his ‘breakup’ albums. There are moments that bring forth genuine melancholy, and for those it deserves some credit, but beyond that one tone it doesn’t do much to sustain the heartbreak into transcendent beauty like the later Where Are You?. It’s a perfect record to spin when you are feeling down, really down, and can’t think of anything else to do but sink your sorrows into music. It is just intimate enough for such an occasion and for that purpose Riddle’s orchestra executes their mission flawlessly. Out of its time and place it is given a bit too much singular credit, as this has been done better by Sinatra several times over since. Perhaps if it was trimmed down to its better half, it would be much more enjoyable and a truly outstanding record. Considering the consistent tone of the album this would be easily achievable. Regardless, it is easy to identify with its appeal as a mellow, bittersweet set of songs; it succeeds in creating and maintaining an atmosphere of sentimental despair against a backdrop of empty city streets decorated with hopeful, twinkling streetlights.