Crooner: Singing from the Heart from Sinatra to Nas

Reaktion. Sept. 2023. 208p. ISBN 9781789147667. pap. $18. MUSIC
Coles (arts and humanities, Univ. of Huddersfield; Tainted Love: Twisted Romantic Ballads) defines “crooners” as baritone singers using torch songs, concept albums, and studio technology to work their magic. He writes here that music studios gave birth to crooners such as Frank Sinatra who could capture softer, lower tones that are difficult to replicate on stage. Sinatra is the throughline for the book, with the author reflecting on his influence on the other singers featured here: Scott Walker, Barry White, David Bowie, Bryan Ferry, Tom Waits, Grace Jones, Ian McCulloch, Nick Cave, and Nas. For each of these artists, the author has chosen one song, rarely one of the performer’s greatest hits, that fits his premise. The book skillfully breaks down the elements of each work and adds a stylized camp to every artist who followed the Sinatra model as their sound morphed into rock, reggae, and hip-hop. However, Coles may overstate the importance of crooners, and the idea of the concept album as crucial to their art is debatable.
VERDICT While some of Coles’s conclusions are arguable, this is an intriguing study of a wide array of vocalists who were inspired by Sinatra. A fresh and educational look at an influential element of popular music.
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