November 28, 1994 12:00 PM

Frank Sinatra and various artists

The extraordinary success of Duets, on which Sinatra sang his signature numbers with everyone from Julio Iglesias to Bono to Carly Simon to Luther Vandross, made a sequel unavoidable. As on the first album, he and his partners in song, now singers such as Jimmy Buffett, Chrissie Hynde and Lorrie Morgan, have recorded their contributions at different times and from different locations. And also from different places in the heart. They don’t seem to be singing together—in some cases they don’t even seem to be singing the same song. Once again, what we’ve got is a triumph of technology over artistry.

And once again, for the most part, Sinatra relies on swagger, growls and the fond memories of his fans rather than on his own finesse and vocal power. When he’s paired with the full-throated Gladys Knight in the gospel-infused “For Once in My Life” or the belting Patti LaBelle in “Bewitched,” Sinatra sounds merely like a guy called up from a studio audience to sing a tune with a star. And joined with Linda Ronstadt’s lovely and relatively restrained “Moonlight in Vermont,” he simply seems to be in the way. There are a few distinguished pairings: “Fly Me to the Moon” with Antonio Carlos Jobim and “A Foggy Day” with Willie Nelson convey a real sense of good fellowship between the performers. And, at similar ages and stages, Sinatra and Lena Home make “Embrace-able You” a tender salute to romance. Duets III? One suspects those in charge will run out of stars long before they run out of nerve. (Capitol)

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