Duets: 20th Anniversary Edition
Frank Sinatra was 77 when he recorded Duets in 1993, and though a companion collection and one final studio album would follow, it truly was his last hurrah. He was back at Capitol Studios, the setting for his landmark 1950s sessions. The tunes were among the most beloved in his canon. The charts were equally recognizable, either the original classics tailored to him by Riddle, May, Costa, Hefti and Mandel, or respectful reinterpretations thereof. The project oozed class. The concept, duets with fellow A-list vocalists young and old, was, if not revolutionary, at least fresh. His voice, its encroaching haggardness varying from track to track, was still strong, still noble.
And yet Duets never quite gels. The trouble, widely observed at the time, is that they’re not truly duets. Sinatra laid down his parts solo, leaving the likes of Streisand, Minnelli, Bennett, Jobim and Aznavour to mold themselves around his prerecorded vocals. Best, then, to think of it as a stylish series of hugs for a collective hero.
The 14 tracks that fill 1994’s Duets II, also included in this double-disc set, are generally weaker, peppered with lesser partners, the seams clearly showing. As for bonus tracks, there are two versions of “My Way,” one with Pavarotti that proves an exercise in bombast and a spare, elegant reading with Willie Nelson. There are a couple of pairings with country stars: an engaging “Embraceable You” with Tanya Tucker and a forgettable “Fly Me to the Moon” with George Strait. Then, worth the price of admission alone, there’s a bourbon-soaked “One for My Baby,” subtly embroidered by Tom Scott, that is the gutsiest version of Sinatra’s career.