Mar 282011

By now, no one would bat an eye to hear that a singer from the ’50s or ’60s was recording an album of heavy metal tunes. Pat Boone’s already done it, William Shatner’s got one on the horizon, and anyone who’s seen The Osbournes television show knows that “Crazy Train” can swing. But with SIN-Atra, Eagle Rock Entertainment has posed the opposite question: can heavy metal artists channel the crooner spirit via the classic songs of Frank Sinatra? Further, will anyone want to hear it?

With an album like SIN-Atra, one must keep expectations in check. Musically, there’s not much variety here. All 12 songs are performed by the same backing band, which includes Bob Kulick (KISS) on guitar and Billy Sheehan (Mr. Big) slapping the bass. With a couple exceptions, each track bathes a classic Frank tune in a thick layer of sludge. Despite the glammy list of contributors, this record mostly eschews a hair metal sound in favor of really hard rock or power metal (though, given the source material, synthesized strings and brass frequently manifest). Biting power chords don’t always provide the best accompaniment for the rich textures woven into Sinatra’s work, leading a few of the tracks to sound a bit messy. Providing a couple exceptions to the metal dirges, album-closer “That’s Life” bounces along with a poppy Sunset Strip beat, while Kulick propels “The Lady Is a Tramp” via a “Hot For Teacher”-esque riff that perfectly fits the lyrics, making “Tramp” the best ’80s-style song since Steel Panther’s last record. Basically, if you like this genre, you’ll probably enjoy these tracks, and if you don’t, this record isn’t for you.

SIN-Atra will live or die, though, based on the strength of its vocal contributors. Few can doubt that Old Blue Eyes possesses one of the most notable voices of all time. Executive producer Wendy Dio had to select singers powerful enough to do justice to these classics but unique enough to make the songs their own. Mostly, she succeeded; the guest stars here represent some of the best of their field. Often, the enjoyability of a particular song rests on how much gusto the singer puts into it, which leads to some outstandingly fun performances from the likes of Devin Townsend (Strapping Young Lad), Geoff Tate (Queensryche) and Dee Snider (Twisted Sister). A few of the vocalists seem out of place — for instance, though Robin Zander (Cheap Trick) may well have inspired many other musicians on this compilation, his voice doesn’t really match theirs in strength. Generally, though, the vocal prowess on display here can’t help but impress.

SIN-Atra seems to be an album built for the era of iTunes. As much as I enjoyed the record, I found that the gimmick behind it began to tire about 3/4 of the way through, and I suspect many other fans might feel the same. But thanks to our single-driven music culture, you’re free to pick and choose the songs you want. Focusing on the tracks with your favorite singers seems the best strategy, with the caveat that “Lady Is a Tramp” must be heard; if the album has a standout performance, that’s it. Overall, SIN-Atra’s a fine record. It’s not a must-buy, but if the concept appeals to you, so will the execution, at least mostly. If nothing else, it’s bound to top Andy Williams singing “The Final Countdown.” Then again…

SIN-Atra Tracklist:
01. New York, New York ft. Devin Townsend (Strapping Young Lad)
02. I’ve Got You Under My Skin ft. Glenn Hughes (Deep Purple)
03. Summerwind ft. Geoff Tate (Queensrÿche)
04. It Was a Very Good Year ft. Dee Snider (Twisted Sister)
05. Witchcraft ft. Tim “Ripper” Owens (Judas Priest, Iced Earth)
06. Fly Me to the Moon ft. Robin Zander (Cheap Trick)
07. Lady Is a Tramp ft. Eric Martin (Mr. Big)
08. Strangers in the Night ft. Joey Belladonna (Anthrax)
09. High Hopes ft. Franky Perez (Scars on Broadway)
10. I’ve Got the World on a String ft. dUg Pinnick (King’s X)
11. Love and Marriage ft. Elias Soriano (Nonpoint)
12. That’s Life ft. Jani Lane (Warrant)

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