Duets is a moving Experience, if a little surreal. A horde of outsize talent — from Barbra and Aretha to Bono and Luther — gangs up on the genius who more or less invented 20th-century popular singing. Predictably, expert players madly dazzle while Frank shadowboxes his former glory. The recent rage for tributes, duets and high-concept packagings — sometimes nice lovefests, frequently triumphs of marketing over musical inspiration — reaches a zenith with Sinatra’s first studio session in a decade. When he finds a pal, the action’s nifty — Tony Bennett and Liza Minnelli urge Frank over the respective hurdles of “New York, New York” and “I’ve Got the World on a String.” And the bizarre sound of Bono scat-crooning (and making like Bowie) on “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” is, um, arresting. Too often, however, such guests as Gloria Estefan, Anita Baker, Julio Iglesias and others overcompensate for sharing a mike with God by going nuts. With Kenny G sweetly accompanying, Frank’s real moment is “All the Way/One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)”: This is the emotion behind the Voice that once made galaxies swing.
Safer but stronger, Tony Bennett’s Steppin’ Out finds him reviving Gershwin, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern and Irving Berlin songs that Fred Astaire introduced. Classy, of course, is the operative concept; so, too, is the delightful exuberance that makes Bennett as much a treasure as any of these jewels.