Nancy Sinatra | Start Walkin’: 1965-1976 | (Light in the Attic)
4 1/2 out of 5 stars
“She’ so cute/Drop all of my loot/Just to see her standing in her go-go boots.”
Only the most iconic musicians get songs named after them. So it’s little surprise that The Bottlerockets titled a tune “Nancy Sinatra.” The lyrics, partially reproduced above, speak to the legacy she left, decades after her songs were recorded. Now in her 80th year, it’s one worth revisiting.
That’s what will happen as the Light in the Attic label starts a yearlong campaign bringing Sinatra’s music back in print. It’s remastered and spiffed up for the digital age with new liner notes, interviews, pictures and graphics. There will also be an on-line “boutique” selling “collectible” merchandise.
If all that seems like overkill for an artist who only had a handful of hits, it nonetheless indicates her influence is still vibrant enough to make this a worthwhile commercial enterprise. That’s in full display on this generous 23 track, 73 minute compilation of Sinatra’s finest work over the course of the titular years. Notably, her surprisingly effective 2004 comeback is not part of the package.
Certainly “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’” fired a subtle salvo announcing Sinatra’s arrival with a tune that’s as vibrant, sexy and even confrontational today as when it first hit the radio in the heady year of 1965. The women’s movement was just getting off the ground and while “Boots” wasn’t exactly “I Am Woman,” it exuded a sassy, no-nonsense attitude distinct from what most female singers traded in at the time. Credit Lee Hazelwood, the song’s writer and the partner that crafted much of Sinatra’s music during this period, for being a key ingredient in her success.
Hazelwood’s gruff baritone, somewhere between Kris Kristofferson and Neil Diamond, had limited range but the yin-yang of Sinatra’s sweeter voice and his darker one made for an intriguing combination. The sound now seems dated on some selections that reveal a 60s, somewhat schlocky, production. But the majority of these well-chosen tracks reflect an approach that married countrypolitan with pop and folk. When everything coalesces, as on much of this collection, Sinatra and Hazelwood are shown to be ahead of their time. That’s especially the case with the almost six minute “Arkansas Soul (Suite)” which weaves through tempo and production changes for a generally effective mélange with Sinatra taking the voice of the wife of an Arkansas coal miner. While it’s not entirely successful, the tune at least displays a willingness to move into somewhat experimental territory.
The duo understood their musical affiliation to Johnny and June, so much so they covered the Cash/Carter duet “Jackson” without deviating much from the original. Elsewhere they went the Mamas & Papas route for “How Are Things in California,” an obvious rip of “California Dreaming.” Since some of Sinatra’s music was played by the Wrecking Crew of veteran West Coast musicians, who also worked with the Mamas & Papas, that connection was logical.
Some of her best music is considerably stripped down like the terrific version of Sonny Bono’s “Bang Bang” that opens the set. On it, Sinatra’s voice is paired with a lone, heavily reverbed guitar for an effect that remains fresh and edgy in its simplicity. Other highlights such as the orchestrated drama of “Some Velvet Morning” and “Summer Wine,” both duets with Hazelwood that find a dusky Spaghetti Western vibe, along with the honeyed pop of “Sugar Town,” also mine a sensual, mysterious and engaging sound.
Even with a few duds, this selection (that thankfully omits the cloying “Something Stupid,” Nancy’s hit with her dad) is likely all most listeners will need. The younger Sinatra’s musical explorations ran far deeper than “These Boots” and Start Walkin’ excavates the finest moments of some inconsistent albums to prove her iconic status is well earned.
Maybe that Bottlerockets’ song will also get a new lease on life.