cover image Crooner: Singing from the Heart from Sinatra to Nas

Crooner: Singing from the Heart from Sinatra to Nas

Alex Coles. Reaktion, $18 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-1-78914-766-7

Coles (Tainted Love), a professor of arts and humanities at the University of Huddersfield, offers a satsifying historical survey of crooners, the “baritone singers who bare their emotion through popular song,” from the 1950s to the present. Spotlighting the obvious suspects (Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Barry White) along with more unexpected vocalists (David Bowie, Grace Jones, and Nas), Coles explains that to qualify as a crooner, an artist must sing ballads of unrequited love, have “an LP with a consistent mood or theme,” and manipulate their song through studio technologies (for example, a vocal performance that’s a composite of a number of takes). Sinatra is a key figure, and Coles expands on the singer’s “superlative ability to act out the emotional drama” in love ballads and “ongoing impact on successive generations of musicians,” including his “experiments with the spoken word” that influenced Nas’s rapping. Despite instances of convoluted prose (“Lyrics referring to the European canon from the album’s eponymous opening track not only announce Bowie’s intention to leave America and return to Europe, in the form of Berlin, but revisit Europe’s musical canon, turning away from Philly soul towards both the text of German Songspiel and the instrumentation of Krautrock”), those who soldier through will gain fresh appreciation for an influential and versatile musical form and its evolution. Music history buffs will be riveted. (Sept.)