Standards albums are always a dodgy proposition. Few contemporary vocalists have the disciplined technical skill to sing standards with the same precision as the singers who made them famous, and fewer still have the vision to bring their own perspective to decades’ old material in a way that feels fresh. To that end, Trisha Yearwood’s Let’s Be Frank is all the more exceptional. It’s saying something that, more than two decades into her career, Yearwood has rarely been in better voice than she is on this collection of songs all either popularized, or inspired, by Frank Sinatra. Yearwood’s gifts as a vocalist put her in rarefied air: Her technique is precise and unerring, her ability to approach a song with a deep understanding of how the choices she makes with her voice — and her phrasing — can elevate any lyric, make her one of the finest interpretive singers in popular music.
Let’s Be Frank works, then, because of the choices she makes throughout, leaning into her vowels like a blues singer, bringing a sultry, seductive tone to “Witchcraft”; using first-person perspective on “The Lady Is a Tramp” to engage her own public image with a wry wit; and when she pulls back on the final few bars of “Over the Rainbow,” she subverts the expectation that she’ll go for a full-on diva belt, ending the song instead on a melancholy note. Recording at Capitol Records studios, and singing into the same microphone that Sinatra once used, Yearwood approaches the material here with respect, but also without being overly reverential. She embraces the sarcasm in the final refrain of “They All Laughed” and sings just behind the beat on “All the Way.” It’s apparent throughout the album that Yearwood has thought carefully about her performances, and that she wants to bring a distinct interpretation to each song. And while the songs are all very familiar — only “For the Last Time” is an original cut, and it’s to Yearwood’s and Garth Brooks’s credit that it fits seamlessly into this particular tracklist — the selection and sequencing work to create something cohesive and fresh. Let’s Be Frank isn’t just Trisha Yearwood in Rat Pack drag; it pays homage to a singular talent from a bygone era, while also adding to the legacy of one of our finest contemporary artists.
Published as part of Rooted & Restless | Issue 1