AS FAR as I am concerned, Frank Sinatra was the greatest male singer ever. Nitpick if you must, but that's my opinion.
This year something very special is arriving for fans of Francis Albert. A new CD version of one of Frank's lesser-known, but brilliant, albums. It's called "The Concert Sinatra." Despite the title, it's not a live album, but critics consider it the peak of his work at Reprise Records, which is saying a lot.
"The Concert Sinatra," recorded in 1963, was arranged by Nelson Riddle with a much larger orchestra than they usually worked with. Frank delivers definitive versions of "I Have Dreamed," "Lost in the Stars," "This Nearly Was Mine," "My Heart Stood Still," "Soliloquy" and others, including a version of "Old Man River" that is thunderous and majestic.
Fans say this is the one Sinatra album to have. If you are unaware of his genius as a vocalist, or even if you know his work -- it is a revelation. (Just as they say, "If you don't know or understand the Judy Garland cult, go get the Carnegie Hall album.")
"The Concert Sinatra" has been beautifully re-mastered. Check out its availability on Amazon.
I ADMIT it, though many of you already know, I am a bit addicted to the BBC's fabulous series "Downton Abbey." I've grown to love many of the characters -- even the loathsome ones, like O'Brien, who tends to Lady Crawley and stirs the pot endlessly.
In any case, and I won't give it away for those who missed the season finale and will watch in repeats, but I was so shocked by the fate of one of the major characters I literally gasped in disbelief. (I suppose if Maggie Smith had been sitting with me, the dowager countess would have provided something to bring me out of the vapors.) I have since learned that the actor wanted off the show. I guess nobody considered re-casting the role, so -- this character is gone for good.
Well, that's life and death in soap opera. Even high-toned soap opera.
SPEAKING OF getting caught up in things, a big shout-out to the Encore network, which has been showing wonderfully restored versions of all those great '80s miniseries, like "The Thorn Birds" and, most recently, "North and South." The latter is as compulsively watchable as it was back in 1985 -- "Dynasty" meets the Civil War. It stars the late Patrick Swayze and the ravishing Lesley-Anne Down, and it's full to the brim with wild cameo appearances by the likes of Wayne Newton, Olivia de Havilland, James Stewart, Lloyd Bridges, Linda Evans, Morgan Fairchild and Elizabeth Taylor, who plays a New Orleans madam. (Hers was the most highly publicized appearance. And when asked how it felt to play a madam, Taylor cackled and said, "I suppose some people might think it's a role I've been preparing for all my life!")
Two other performances of note: Terri Garber, as a wicked nymphomaniac Southern belle (Scarlett O'Hara gone totally bonkers) and Kirstie Alley as an obsessed abolitionist -- her every scene is "big" and she looks fabulous.
They really just don't make 'em like that anymore. And mores the pity. Primetime TV is pretty much a reality-show wasteland now.
(E-mail Liz Smith at MES3838@aol.com.)