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Picks and Pans Review: Duets

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Frank Sinatra, various artists

He’s the Chairman of the Board, arguably the greatest pop singer ever to loss a microphone, so maybe Frank Sinatra, 77 has earned the right to do what he wants, no questions asked, no criticism offered. If you believe that, slop reading. If you don’t: Alas, Ol’ Blue Eyes’ first studio album in years—a compendium of his standards performed with, among others, Barbra Streisand, Aretha Franklin, Natalie Cole, Julio Iglesias and Bono of U2—is a travesty, perhaps even a desperate record producer’s idea of a publicity stunt.

Sinatra, whose vocals are enfeebled if aggressive, brings nothing new to renditions of the classic Nelson Riddle arrangements for “The Lady Is a Tramp,” “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning,” “Summer Wind” and “One For My Baby” (not that he has to; he did the definitive takes years ago). More to the point, most of his confreres are utterly clueless about what is required of them. Their phrasing, their pitch, their diction (particularly Anita Baker’s on “Witchcraft”) is pitiable. They seem far more interested in hearing themselves emote than in relating to Sinatra.

Part of the problem may be that many of the contributors weren’t even in the studio with Frank for the sessions. Aretha Franklin was in Detroit, Carly Simon in Boston, Bono (whose cover of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” is the album’s nadir) was in Dublin. That may make Duets a triumph of technology, but artistry is the loser. The one grace note in Duets is—-God bless him—Tony Bennett, whose pairing with Sinatra on “New York, New York” is imbued with style, warmth and what sounds like genuine affection. (Capitol)”