Carrack scored four solo U.S. hits circa 1982-1990, but baby boomers probably know him better for the hits he sang with Ace, Squeeze, and Mike + the Mechanics. Good performances all, but they pale beside the dozen he turns in here with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. By the time he's done reclaiming "I Can't Make You Love Me" from Bonnie Raitt and "I Live on a Battlefield" from Nick Lowe, his "Moon River" and "Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying" seem as inevitable as they do definitive.
Unlike Jim O'Rourke's 2010 All Kinds of People, which subtly reinterpreted Burt Bacharach with an ear toward endearing his compositions to the moodier segments of today's youth demographic, Ronan Keating's Bacharach tribute plays Bacharach straight. Atop arrangements and instrumentation that replicate those with which these magnificent songs first entered the American psyche, Keating out-sings nearly everyone else who has ever assayed this material. That he also reminds the world that it was Bacharach who wrote "Arthur's Theme" as well as "What the World Needs Now" is icing.
In 2006, Reprise released a four-disc, one-DVD box called Sinatra: Vegas. Then the recession hit, and people who might've otherwise bought it said, "No thanks." Now Concord has boiled that box down to its 14-song, one-monologue essence and done the job so smoothly that you can't even tell when the shows jump from '61 to '66 to '82 to '87. For nearly an hour, the pace never lags because the emphasis is on the swinging Sinatra-and because the eight-minute, 34-second stand-up-comedian Sinatra ain't exactly chopped liver either.
Finally, Souza's performances are gathered in one place. The songs: era-defining pop-rock hits (seven from the '80s, two apiece from the '60s and '70s, one from the '90s). The style: sultry jazz for small combo and arrestingly velvet-voiced interpreter. On paper, the project might read like a novelty, but, coming out of speakers, the music amounts to a revelation, proof for those who need it that, occasional outward appearances to the contrary, rockers for decades really have known what they were doing when they set pen to paper.
Thirteen years ago, not long after Frank Sinatra died, the New York-based journalist Pete Hamill published Why Sinatra Matters, as lyrical and touching a tribute from one artist to another as has ever made it to print. "Sinatra," wrote Hamill, "defined the glamour of the urban night. . . . [T]o inhabit the night, to be one of its restless creatures, was a small act of freedom." It is that glamour as freedom that makes Sinatra's Best of Vegas (Concord), which was, after all, recorded at night, essential listening.
The America that Sinatra symbolized was, like Sinatra himself, imperfect, but, also like Sinatra himself, it meant well more often than not. And Sinatra never meant better than when he was giving "Sin City" patrons their money's worth. A notoriously lapsed Catholic, he sometimes winked at his and his fans' weaknesses. But there was never any doubt that he understood it was more blessed to give than to receive. And give he did.