As with virtually anything Frank Sinatra tried after his triumphs in the 1950s and early 1960s, the knives came out to attack Duets II and Mr. Sinatra.
No this is not the Sinatra that sang with Tommy Dorsey, or Capitol records in the 1950s or Reprise. Why is that such a crime? Does anyone actually listen to the Sinatra music of the 70s, 80s or 90s, and not just with their ears but with their emotions and hearts. How anyone can say that the Lena Horne-Sinatra duet on Embraceable You is anything but beautiful is beyond me. He sings with such raw emotion, such real feeling, that is what music is about. That aside however, his breath control and phrasing are not what they were FORTY YEARS AGO, but its ridiculous to expect it to be. Further, does it remotely occur to anyone that both Duets albums contain (with a few exceptions) manifestly revised arrangements of these standards. These were not the same arrangements Sinatra had been singing on the road for the past few years. Yet, he adapts. Yes his voice is weak in a several spots, but usually to great emotional effect.
There is a haunting beauty to Embraceable You, to the Lori Morgan duet and to most of the others slower pieces. The uptempo numbers find Sinatra swinging as sharp as ever, but with the occassional growl which only adds to the emotion being created.
I have heard an unending chain of great jazz, blues and rock singers who hobble out on stage, sing a song with no passion, no emotion, totally univested in the lyrics, and in relatively lousy voice (Bob Dylan--who can even understand the man) only to have the critics tell us what a riveting performance. Sinatra however, is given no such reprive. Anything that isnt the 50s Capitol era is riddled with flaws.
Well, I for one have had enough of it. TRUE SINATRA FANS can appreicate the man and the singer in all phases of his career because each phase represented something truly special and unique. His later works require the listener to actually enter the music with Sinatra, but when you do, the rewards are astounding. What Sinatra may lack in vocal precision in the 1990s he makes up for in sheer emotional power.
I would be delighted if they would release a Duets III since there are supposedly unreleased takes from the Duets I and II sessions. I have even heard their is a Sinatra duet with Clint Black somewhere out there.
Lastly, though not on this album, his final released duet with Pavoratti on "MY WAY" has to be one of the most haunting pieces ever created. It has Sinatra singing MY WAY in the arrangement he was using in the last few years of his touring, an arrangment I don't believe is avialable anywhere else (which in and off itself makes this version worthwhile). His voice is tremulous at times and I suppose in reality we could do without Pavarotti, however, througout the entire song is the underlying text that says good bye. If you really listen to this MY WAY, you can't help but be overwhelmed.