Album Review: Shaggy - Come Fly Wid Mi
by Gardy Stein
"This idea of getting my friend to sing ten iconic songs from the Frank Sinatra songbook in a reggae style had been brewing for a while… I know, it sounds crazy! But every time the idea crossed my mind, it made me smile. And what does the world need now, more than anything else… something to smile about!" (Sting)
What Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner CBE, better known as Sting, describes here is indeed a masterpiece of conception and creation, something that has never been done before. Obviously, not much persuasion was needed to win his pal Shaggy over for the project, and now, Com Fly Wid Mi – The Sinatra Songbook inna Reggae Stylee has seen the light of day. From Ol' Blue Eyes to Mr. Boombastic, it marries the beauty of Frank Sinatra's harmonies to the timeless magic of Reggae music, interpreted by a singer who – despite his usually more MC deliveries – unfolds his full vocal potential on this album. The best of two extraordinary performers!
Since this experiment wouldn't have worked out the way it did had it not been for the equally extraordinary musicians that breathed life into the visions of producer Sting as well as arrangers Rob Mathes and Steven "Lenky" Marsden, I will take a moment to introduce them as well. While the latter two played keyboard (and piano) on all tracks, we also hear fine instrumental contributions by Keneil Delisser (drums & percussion), Dave Richards (bass), Robert "Dubwise" Browne and Monty Savory (guitar) as well as Oshane Love (tenor sax), Randy Fletcher (trombone), Okiel McIntyre (trumpet) and the unequalled Dean Fraser on alto saxophone.
Their horns prominently start the first track That's Life, and the sweet voices of background singers Nicole Burt, Adena Myrie, Sharieta Lewis and Karene Annikay Brown immediately evoke the splendor of Frank's celebrated stage performances. It is Shaggy we hear, however, and he masters the double challenge of sounding as life-experienced as the song's originator and making it his own by little slurs and an edgy delivery. The video for this track grants us an intimate view behind the scenes of its creation. Miami, Los Angeles, Kingston… we get to visit the stations in the making of this first single, participating in the awe of entering Capitol Studios as well as in the playful banter prevailing at Anchor's Studio recording sessions. Most of all, the deep friendship of Shaggy and Sting comes across here, perfectly captured in the visuals directed by Jay Will.
The title track Come Fly With Me is arranged in a Ska style, picking up the original's playful spirit. I had to listen to Frank's version to find out if "JA" and "Montego Bay" were mentioned in the initial lyrics, and they are not (Sinatra is going to Bombay and Acapulco Bay instead). Chapeau to Randy for that trombone solo!
While we are in the air, let's listen to Fly Me To The Moon next. The love song finds beautiful metaphors to describe how it feels to have that significant other ("fill my heart with soar and let me sing forever more…"), and Shaggy hurls the words in fervent jubilation at us.
Similarly enthusiastic, You Make Me Feel So Young celebrates the rejuvenating powers of love, while Under My Skin describes a later stage in a relationship. Both tracks have been arranged close to the original, and it's amazing how well Reggae works with Frank's glamorous style.
The shortest track on the playlist, Saturday Night, was arranged with some bubbly organs and dubbed elements that diversify the set, as does Luck Be A Lady. Stepping up the tempo considerably, it's the Dancehall version of the collection, profiting from additional percussions and drum programming by Erasmo "Wasmo" Huerta and Martin "Cherry Cherry Boom Boom" Kierszenbaum. As for the lyrics, while they might have been a clever metaphorical elaboration on a femalely perceived Fortuna's whims back in the year 1950 when the song was written by Frank Loesser, they come across a little patriarchally today.
"Warm and easy, you know… Sting!" The way the communication with executive producer Sting is kept up in That Old Black Magic, even from within the song, is the sweetest thing. Originally written by Johnny Mercer for the musical Star Spangled Rhythm in 1942, it is – of course – another love song, although it ascribes a certain danger to the way one can be subjected to its power. In a similar vein, Witchcraft (added as bonus track in an acoustic version) discusses the mystic spiritual side of phsyical attraction: "And I've got no defense for it, the heat is too intense for it…"
Jazz at it's finest, Angel Eyes has preserved much of its instrumental appeal, presented in a laid-back one drop. And while Sinatra liked to accompany the last line "Excuse me while I disappear" with his departure from stage, in this version the song slowly fades out after these words.
Come Fly Wid Mi is an exciting affair for lovers of Swing, Jazz and Reggae, bringing a Broadway feel to the music we love. Who would have guessed - the Reggaefication of Frank Sinatra turns out to be a perfect match for the dream-team of Sting and Shaggy, and might well entitle them for their next Grammy nomination!
Shaggy - Come Fly Wid Mi
Release date: 05/25/2022
01. That’s Life
02. Come Fly with Me
03. That Old Black Magic
04. Fly Me to the Moon
05. Luck Be a Lady
06. You Make Me Feel So Young
07. Under My Skin
08. Saturday Night
10. Angel Eyes
11. Witchcraft (Guitar/Voice) [Bonus Track]
Produced by STING