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Frank Sinatra, Jr.

THAT FACE! • Frank Sinatra Jr.

It's common in Italian families for the first-born son to be named after the father. But you have to wonder if things might've gone differently for Frank Sinatra Jr. if he'd have been christened Jimmy or Joey or Dominic.

Living in the shadow of the 20th century's preeminent male vocalist can seriously hinder a career. Especially if you're a male vocalist with the same name. To illustrate just how frustrating it's been, when Frank Jr. had a cameo on The Sopranos last season, Paulie Walnuts dubbed him "Chairboy of the Board." The 62-year old kid has been living with jokes like that his whole life.

Though he hasn't released many albums over the years, Frank Jr. has carved out a nice living in the business as a conductor (he conducted for Frank Sr. in the 1980s), an arranger, and a touring performer, keeping the legacy of his dad's music alive.

Listening to That Face!, you get the sense that this is a long-dreamed-of project for Frank Jr. He has gathered some of the key players from his dad's sessions, including Hank Cattaneo and Frank's longtime piano man Bill Miller. He's dusted off Nelson Riddle and Billy May arrangements. And he's recorded in the legendary Capitol Records studio.

There's no way to avoid the inevitable vocal comparisons. While Frank Jr. has much less swagger than his old man, he's definitely inherited his swing and phrasing. On "Walking Happy," "Softly As In A Morning Sunrise," and "Girl Talk" (a duet with Steve Tyrell), he dances with the big band arrangements, lagging playfully behind, then bearing down on key words and inner rhymes and keeping the whole thing, in Sammy Cahn's words, "finger snappy."

As a balladeer, Frank Jr. brings an affecting charm to "You'll Never Know" and the seldom-heard "The People You Never Get To Love." The fact that his personality isn't bigger-than-life like his father's works to his advantage, as he's able to quietly inhabit these songs. On the latter, when he sings, "The saddest words that anyone has ever said or wrote -- what might've been / But then who said we get to win," you can hear a world-weary emotion that is all too real.

Other contemporary singers such as Rod Stewart and Michael Bolton are covering (or mangling) the Sinatra songbook, but for my money, I'd rather keep it a family affair. No, he's not Frank Sr. No one is or ever will be. But Frank Jr. is a damn fine singer and he deserves some attention.

As Hemingway once nearly wrote: The son also rises.
• Bill DeMain

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