Artist: Frank Sinatra
Album: Watertown (Deluxe Edition / Mix)
Genre: Vocal Jazz
02. Goodbye (She Quietly Says)
03. For A While
04. Michael & Peter
05. I Would Be In Love (Anyway)
07. What A Funny Girl (You Used To Be)
08. What’s Now Is Now
09. She Says
10. The Train
11. Lady Day
12. Lady Day (11/7/69)
13. Watertown (Session Take)
14. Goodbye (She Quietly Says) (Session Take)
15. The Train (Session Take)
16. Lady Day (Session Take)
17. 1970 Reprise Radio Promo #1
18. 1970 Reprise Radio Promo #2
For the last half-century, Watertown has occupied a unique spot in Frank Sinatra’s discography. Loathed by a loud swath of Sinatra purists, beloved by a devoted group of fans who live to evangelize the album’s singular sensibility, and basically ignored by everyone else, the album has lingered as a curiosity that bridged the dominance of the Chairman’s run through the ’50s and ’60s with the relegation to elder statesman that he was to embrace through the ’70s and ’80s. When Sinatra recorded Watertown, he hadn’t had a number one pop album in more than four years, and as the rock revolution moved from teen fad to lasting cultural movement in the late ’60s, he had increasingly moved to the periphery of popular consciousness. And while he had dipped his toe into “modern” sounds throughout the last half of the decade—a Judy Collins or a Glen Campbell cover here, a little fuzz guitar there—Sinatra was very much not interested in any sort of crossover attempts that were not on his own terms.
So, in an attempt to revisit the creative and commercial high-water marks of his legendary concept albums, his first since 1966’s Moonlight Sinatra, he enlisted Bob Gaudio (of the Four Seasons) to co-write (along with commercial jingle writer Jake Holmes) and produce a more contemporary take. Unlike his previous concept work, Watertown was narratively driven, telling an opening-to-epilogue story of a middle-aged man whose family left him in his peaceful, pleasant small town as they sought out a more exciting life in the big city. No, it is not the most subtle metaphor for where Sinatra was personally and professionally at the time, but it was a daring approach nonetheless.
Wrestling with age and grief and loss, the story never comes off as cloying or self-indulgent, and Sinatra handles the material with the emotional resonance and vocal precision of his best works. It is, to be clear, a fantastic album. In addition to Sinatra’s voice being in excellent form, the arrangements—straddling the line between baroque pop and gentle orchestral mellowness—are as warm and welcoming as they are structurally satisfying. Sure, the childrens’ chorus and poetry-night vocal delivery on “She Says” is a little jarring, but even that approach is serving the narrative. The session takes on this new expanded edition are also hugely rewarding, especially the spare, driving alternate version of “The Train” and two other similarly exhilarating alternate takes of album cuts.
Even more notable is “Lady Day,” a wrenching ballad that, despite its centrality to the story being told, was left off the original album; it’s available here in three versions, along with three other alternate session takes that are a bit more driving and direct than their final versions. Soon after Watertown, Sinatra would retire for a couple years, after which he would re-emerge, fully comfortable in his elder statesman role. And while he would have an adult contemporary hit here and there throughout the ’70s and ’80s (and would again attempt a concept album—1980’s Trilogy—that has yet to find its reputation rehabilitated by time), it’s arguable that Watertown was Sinatra’s last truly great album.