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WILLIAM SHATNER, “Has Been” (Shout! Factory)

If you want to laugh at even the concept of a William Shatner album, I can forgive you. The veteran TV star comes off as super-ham in those Priceline commercials, and remains joke-fodder to some for blending classic rock songs with stream-of-consciousness poetry (his version of “Lucy In the Sky with Diamonds,” from his 1968 album “The Transformed Man,” could be taken as either high or low point of Rhino Records’ “Golden Throats” compilation of wacky vocalists).

It says here, though, that “Has Been” is a work of genius. Credit Ben Folds for his production and arrangements, which range from rocking, on the opening track “Common People” (featuring vocal accompaniment from Joe Jackson at his angriest), to intimate, as on the cocktail jazz of “Familiar Love” or “It Hasn’t Happened Yet”’s slow rumination of regret.

Most of the titles are Shatner/Folds collaborations (the album-closing “Real” comes from Brad Paisley, of all people, who joins on guitar and vocal). All are full of wit and wisdom, none more so than “You’ll Have Time”- “Live life!,” Shatner shouts, tongue only partially in cheek. “Live life like you’re gonna die—because you’re gonna.”

NANCY SINATRA, “Nancy Sinatra” (Attack/Sanctuary)

Nancy Sinatra’s self-titled album is the strongest return by a female rock ‘n roll icon since Tina Turner’s “Private Dancer.” For this she need thank younger fans, most notably Morrissey, a huge one, who brought her to her new label and supplied “Let Me Kiss You,” a perfect Nancy Sinatra song for which he also sings backup.

The rest of the set covers a lot of stylistic ground, with stand-outs including “Don’t Let Him Waste Your Time,” written by Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker and produced according to Phil Spector; an eerie “Momma’s Boy,” penned by Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore; and “Bossman,” a trippy piece co-written by Sinatra’s daughter AJ and son-in-law Matt Azzarto (the couple also produced the album with Don Fleming). Special mention must be made of Steven Van Zandt’s Ronettes-inspired “Baby Please Don’t Go,” since the writer’s “Sopranos” stint has overshadowed his musical penmanship, and Bono and Edge’s “Two Shots of Happy, One Shot of Sad,” a saloon song originally intended for Frank Sinatra.

None of it works, of course, without Nancy Sinatra’s voice, which is as comfortable as well-walked-in “Boots.” Never a showy vocalist, Sinatra retains a warm comfort level that is real and relatable, approachable and eminently welcoming. / Issue 44 - September 3456
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