Earlier this year, an icon of popular music teamed up with a young admirer and released an album which blew away all who heard it. Loretta Lynn‘s Van Lear Rose was an astonishing achievement and a definite contender for album of the year. Now, hot on the heels of Lynn’s comeback, comes another figure who had long ago been thought to have settled into retirement.
It’s fair to say though, that Nancy Sinatra never quite had the artistic credibility of Loretta Lynn. She was unfairly compared to her father as a vocalist and the handful of legendary pop singles she created with Lee Hazelwood, such as the classic These Boots Were Meant For Walking, seemed to be her only musical legacy.
Despite this, she remained an iconic figure for many. An appearance on Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill soundtrack piqued interest, and the quality of the guests on this, Sinatra’s first album for nearly 10 years, shows how highly regarded she is amongst the younger generation. Here, you’ll find Jarvis Cocker, Pete Yorn, U2 and Morrissey amongst others contributing songs.
The first thing to note here is how contemporary the album sounds. While it won’t send Sinatra’s veteran fans running screaming for the earplugs, it certainly won’t turn off listeners of less advanced years either. Opening track Burnin’ Down The Spark is a collaboration with Joey Burns from Calexico, and has that band’s air of atmospheric Americana written all over it.
Sinatra’s voice, while perhaps not the strongest around, still sounds pretty good, especially for a 64 year old. She may not have the range and legendary status that her father did but there’s an attractive vulnerability here that is expertly exploited by the guests, most noticeably Cocker.
Cocker appears twice on the album, together with Richard Hawley. His first contribution, Don’t Let Him Waste Your Time, is a definite highpoint. Closer to Hawley’s material than Cocker’s musically, Sinatra delivers lines like “some skinny bitch walks by in hotpants, and he’s running out the door” with just the right amount of world weariness. Baby’s Coming Back To Me, Cocker’s other song, is equally satisfying, with an appropriately ’60s feel.
Elsewhere, Morrissey fans will recognise Let Me Kiss You from his You Are The Quarry album – Sinatra’s version is a virtual carbon copy, with Moz on backing vocals. It deserves mention though for including what could be the lyrical couplet of the year in “so close your eyes, and think of someone you physically admire, and let me kiss you”.
Another highpoint can be found in Baby Please Don’t Go, not a version of the old Them classic, but a song written by Stephen Van Zandt. Van Zandt is now best known for playing Silvio Dante in The Sopranos, but is also Bruce Springsteen‘s guitarist and a fine songwriter in his own right – as this driving rock song expertly performed by Sinatra proves.
The only sticking point comes in Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth‘s contribution, Momma’s Boy. Moore is a fine songwriter, but this comes across as dirge-like and doesn’t sit well amongst the more sparkling arrangements here. That’s the only time the album quality dips however.
Bono and company appear on the album’s final track, the marvellously titled Two Shots Of Happy One Shot Of Sad. Originally written for Frank Sinatra, his daughter tackles the boozy piano bar ballad with all the respect it deserves. It’s the only song on the album that would fit in with Nancy’s early material and is a perfect closer to the album.
Nancy Sinatra may never escape her father’s huge shadow but this album will go a long way towards marking her out as much more than a kitsch curio. If rumours are anything to go by, she’s a long way from retiring too – there’s work in the pipeline with Billy Idol, Debbie Harry and Doves. Long may her boots keep on a-walkin’.