Oh No, He Can't!

Old Fontainebleu fave Sammy Davis, Jr.

Beyond his silly public image, it's impossible to wade through Yes I Can! and not wonder just how deeply the sting of racism affected Davis's work -- the irony of performing on the stage of the Fontainebleau while having to sleep in an Overtown fleabag. Were the Broadway tunes, pop trifles, and country-and-western panderings his way of ingratiating himself into the conscious white pop culture, of trying to make it by playing someone else's game? If so he was ill equipped to pull it off, despite the attestations in the box set's liner notes by the infuriatingly tight-ass Will Friedwald. Davis never brought anything new to a song, never surprised you with the subtle grace of vintage Sinatra and Bennett, or dazzled you with the urbane elegance of Martin. The manic energy of Davis's stage presence (documented on this set's fourth disc, which is devoted to his live performances) is neither impressive nor particularly exciting. Even within the realm of cocktail camp, this is tedious stuff, the end result of a lifetime spent in search of applause: a lifetime working in show business, the business of show.

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