These are gloomy times for the recording industry. There hasn't been a new packaging technology since the introduction of the CD two decades ago, which killed the LP, which had killed the 78, which had killed the player piano. And for a music company, there is nothing sadder than not being able to sell its customers a brand-new library full of music they already own.
The only salvation, it appears, is in the continuing proliferation of boxed compilation sets. These productions are so expensively packaged (and priced), they're more like repositories for religious icons than for a few dozen tunes. If they were any bigger, you would be proud to use them as furniture; if they were smaller, you would wear them around your neck. But do you want to listen to them?
Once, the boxed sets were regatherings of material previously scattered in a variety of places. But we're way past that now. Take the just-released Sinatra in Hollywood (Reprise/Turner), a six-disc anthology of Frankie's film singing. It is no small accomplishment that its producers persuaded the movie studios who hold the rights to this material to allow a raid on their vaults. Some of what the producers found--a few songs from an abortive cartoon version of Finian's Rainbow, Soliloquy from Carousel, a film Sinatra walked out on--is interesting, if not top-notch, Frank. But as there have already been enough Sinatra collections to make you want to listen to Ricky Nelson, what's left is mostly the great man's pocket lint.
If it happened on a movie set, it's here: Sinatra introducing a screechy Eddie Hodges on a promotional spot for A Hole in the Head; Sinatra in a duet with (honest) Shelley Winters; Sinatra--well, where is he while we listen to some incidental music out of From Here to Eternity? Almost all the great movie songs (and there are plenty here) arrive in inferior versions--no surprise when you remember that Sinatra would do 10, even 20 takes in a studio to get something right for one of his records, hardly the standard on Hollywood sound stages.
Co-producer Charles Granata is a first-rate Sinatra scholar, with a scholar's interest in the details. Same for the exceptionally knowledgeable critic Will Friedwald, who contributes an essay. But having Granata and Friedwald expend their energies on this material is like having Stephen Hawking explain why the little hand counts the hours and the big hand counts the minutes. For the rest of us, it's just a matter of being suckered. --By Daniel Okrent