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on September 20, 2011
Is it any surprise that Tony Bennett presides over this collection of songs like a loving parent, nurturing each of them to ensure beauty results? No, of course not.

Indelibly present and in fine, oaken voice, his turn of phrase is expressive as ever. In fact, Bennett's warmth and charisma are still so strong they sometimes obscure the presence of his duet partners who simply do not have hearts as big as his to offer listeners.

"Duets II" is much like the initial 2006 duets collection in that it is a glossy, sugary-sweet excursion into smoothed-over pop vocal performances with Mr. Bennett's skills guiding the way, singing life into all the nooks and crannies whether or not he and his given duet partner are a suitable pairing. His personality and status as America's foremost singer of songs must guide the way.

Of note is his work with the late Amy Winehouse on "Body and Soul," a heartbreaking, apt tune for the chanteuse's final recording. Both are in their element, and the result is fraught with unrequited longing and slow-burning desperation. It is a fortunate teaming of two great talents bathed in instant pathos in its reminder of how fleeting art, like life, can be. Winehouse's voice was a fine instrument indeed, and "Body and Soul" showcases it.

Duet partners who earn their keep on this collection include k.d. lang, Willie Nelson, Norah Jones, Natalie Cole, Andrea Bocelli, Faith Hill, Lady Gaga, Queen Latifah, Josh Groban and Alejandro Sanz, whose passion fills the timeless "Yesterday I Heard the Rain."

Hill, in particular, sounds so enchanting alongside Bennett on "The Way You Look Tonight" that a full album collaboration between the pair would be a welcome prospect. "Speak Low" with Ms. Jones is absolute perfection - a simmering, wistful track that remains a Bennett concert staple and is ideally suited to Ms. Jones' brand of hush-hush, late-night intimacy.

lang and Bennett duet on the evergreen, lovely "Blue Velvet" with exactness and care - apt considering their longstanding friendship - while Lady Gaga oozes energy and pep on the sprightly "The Lady is a Tramp," a three-minute slice of giddy fun which underscores her theatrical personality as well as her bold, caffeinated vocal ability. Bennett is clearly delighted to be recording with her, and their chemistry is refreshing. Clever, praiseworthy choices of material help Groban and Latifah sound just as welcome with Bennett at their side.

Unfortunately, "How Do You Keep the Music Playing?" with Aretha Franklin is a squandered opportunity. Sung with profoundly moving emotional transparency by Bennett, both on record and in concert, it is not suited for Franklin's melismatic turn of phrase in which the lyrics often take a back seat to drama and flourish.

Elsewhere, Sheryl Crow is unengaging on "The Girl I Love," just as she was singing Cole Porter in "De-Lovely" back in 2004 - her voice is much more suited to her own contemporary material. John Mayer has little presence next to Bennett on their selection, and Michael Buble sings on "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" with his trademark bland, self-interested swagger that runs a very thin emotional gamut. The upside is that it underscores the value of Bennett's versatility and self-effacing nature.

Charles DeForest's "When Do the Bells Ring for Me," one of Bennett's finest recordings, is presented here as a spellbinding duet with Mariah Carey that ends the disc strongly. The pair should have recorded long ago. Although the song itself is not in Carey's key, both vocalists accommodate one another graciously, and magic results.

"Duets II" certainly has the feeling of "product" - after all, Sony has invested great time and money into it, with only the highest promotional blitz and many of today's biggest, sparkliest stars alongside Bennett. Despite this it still has the warmth and feel of a genuine Bennett album due to his love, obviously still in the highest abundance, for the best songs ever written.

Certain retailers carry exclusive versions with bonus tracks, so do your homework.
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At the time of the release of the 2 best-selling albums of Sinatra's career, the Duets albums from the mid-'90s, I was elated. Many of us simply didn't want to believe, in fact rejected the unthinkable, i.e. that Sinatra was finished, so these latter-day gifts were sufficient cause for celebration. And for the first month or two after each of the two releases, I played them repeatedly. But soon the novelty wore off, and I had no interest in these concoctions, especially with the vast Columbia catalog, the priceless Capitol recordings with Nelson Riddle, the final extended chapter of his Reprise years all beckoning to be revisited. Apparently, others felt much the same (recently, I've seen either disc going for a buck or two used).

The Bennett Duets are less "tricked-up" than the Sinatra ones, which involved long-distance, call-in performances by his partners. Moreover, Tony sounds almost as good as ever, much more vibrant physically and in control musically than Ole Blue was after 1990. Moreover, the program comprises winning songs from the Great American Songbook, with Tony so confident and secure that, rather than being "carried" by any of his younger, more vigorous, partners, he's the one who makes up for their deficiencies with this material.

Perhaps the track with the greatest interest will be "Body and Soul" with Amy Winehouse. It's the most recorded popular tune in music history (check out the numbers at jazzstandards.com or allmusic.com), partly because much of its satisfaction comes from the challenge of executing it--difficult but ingenious and logical chords, unforgettable melody, mediocre lyrics--but Bennett and Winehouse (who sounds mature lightyears beyond her actual age) pull it off quite nicely. Listening to Amy's first album--"Frank," the one before her hugely popular "Back to Black"--it soon became clear that the very young girl at this time knew jazz phrasing and could swing. Once she finished the daunting "Moody's Mood for Love," you knew right then that she was capable of delivering the goods in more than one style or genre.

The one thing that may be slightly off-putting is Amy's attempt to sound rougher, more blasé, even a bit inebriated (stoned--or an affectation?), than either she or the song requires. The same could be said about Lady Gaga's otherwise sparkling performance on "The Lady Is a Tramp" (what a travesty this number becomes when certain latter-day singers substitute "champ," which not only wastes Lorenz Hart's clever, subtly ironic, lyrics but actually destroys the non-conformist, free and independent spirit of the lady portrayed in the song). But Lady Gaga sings the song and the word "Tramp" with the most assured conviction (it's Tony who almost messes it up by (only once) substituting what sounds like "champ"). Though she could do without a couple of "growls," Gaga proves that she's more than some sort of insubstantial hoax, one-trick pony, or year-round Halloween media creature. Like Tiny Tim (whose musicianship won me over after the initial shock wore off), the person who plays the role of "Lady Gaga" is a wonderful "straight"performer, perhaps even a first-rate musician. Sounds like she's listened to Sinatra.)

The duets with Michael Buble, Natalie Cole and Dana Evans (Queen Latifah) are predictably right in Tony's wheelhouse. He could easily make an entire album of arresting performances with any one of these musicians, who have jazz sensibilities similar to Tony's.

The rest of the album will score big with some listeners, especially those who responded favorably to Michael Bolton singing with Pavarotti. But to my ears the album tends to get a bit thick and mushy, even "injured" by musicians who simply can not swing. I appreciated Merle Haggard's lengthy interview in the NY Times shortly after his "jazz" album. Whatever one might think of the result, there was no question that Merle knew he was in unfamiliar territory, over his head and studying up as hard and fast as he could about the elocution, phrasing, and timing required to deliver a classic Gershwin ballad or swing tune and do it justice. Willie Nelson keeps revisiting the "American Songbook," but I have yet to hear him adapt to its standards.)

Bocelli and Groban contribute to the schmaltzy quality weighing down stretches of the album (The solo version of Tony's early signature song, "Stranger in Paradise," is far superior to this new version. Inexplicably, Aretha goes after a song that was one of the highlights of the first Duets album, "How Do You Keep the Music Playing." My advice: revisit the first version with Tony and George Michael or simply forget about it. Aretha is one of the all-time great soul singers (starting out as a jazz singer, despite the popularity of her dad's recorded sermons), and she was delightful on the Sinatra Duets album, providing much needed life. But here she takes on a freely structured song that goes no where unless the singer is able to take it somewhere. She's in good voice but the effect on this listener is: "Been there, done that."

As for the others, if you prefer a duet for Harold Arlen's wrist-slasher, "One for My Baby," make it any Sinatra version, or even the Kurt Elling-John Pizzarelli meeting. On this occasion, the song, which is a musical soliloquy, or a Robert Browning dramatic monologue addressed to a silent auditor, and moreover a haunting cry of despair (one of Sinatra's greatest "suicide songs"), was a mistake from the very beginning (I can imagine the Arlen estate even being offended by this insult to the the memory of Harold Arlen and lyricist Johnny Mercer). Performed as a duet by Tony and his youthful counterpart, it comes off as little more than slightly mischievous and lightweight albeit pleasant musical conversation. In fact, there's a bit too much pleasant, pretty music on the album--nice-sounding voices, thick layers of sweet-sounding strings.

But for Tony and the highlights on the album, the result, on balance, still amounts to a winner: 3 stars, a definite thumbs-up though certainly not a high-five. This time I'm not as quick to pull the trigger as was the case with the so-so (in retrospect) Sinatra Duets. I could readily list (and produce from my collection) a dozen albums by Tony that trump both Duets dates--timeless performances, some with just Tony and the piano of Bill Evans, or Tony with Flanagan's or Sharon's trio, or Tony with Count Basie. The man unquestionably knows the routine (to quote from the aforementioned Arlen song), and on a number of his solo recordings, he's gone beyond and above it--way above it, reaching artistic heights on the level of the best by Armstrong, Astaire, Garland, Holiday, Crosby, and even Frank, singing his heart out just for the joy of it (and not a fiddler in sight).
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on September 20, 2011
This is an amazing album, from top to bottom. I had no idea how versatile some of the singers could be such as Carrie Underwood, Lady Gaga, Amy Winehouse, etc. I really enjoyed every single performance.

My favorites would have to be Carrie Underwood and Amy Winehouse, hands down. Both ladies capture a retro sound beautifully in their performances, and they compliment Tony very nicely.

It is a very nice mix of yesterday meets today's artists, without cheapening it or destroying the original song.

Bravo, Mr. Bennett. I see Grammys in your future (again!). :)
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on September 20, 2011
"I don't know anyone that walks the face of the earth that doesn't want to sing with Tony Bennett"

-- Faith Hill

Thanks to the world's biggest website for its "related media" supplements, thoughtfully included for our viewing pleasure: I especially loved hearing Tony Bennett's own thoughts on his personal approach to song collaboration:

"So listen," (says the Master of this game) "my passion is still VERY strong. I'm 85. I wake up every morning and I love to sing. I love entertaining people. I will definitely KEEP performing . . . `cause I LOVE it! [This is] `My `Game'!

Those (like me) who've been students all our lives of `The Great American Songbook' are aware of stories and anecdotes about every standard on this album - all of them performed early or late in Tony Bennett's career. But it's great to know how Mr. Bennett's duet partners felt about their cherished "chance to sing with Tony."

Jazz singer John Mayer's astute observation:

"So, you're into the singing [with Tony] and thinking: `HERE's where we are: This is probably where he lives and won't go [stray] far from where we are now? But then . . . he'll go eight notes higher - where he hadn't been before. And you realize: `Oh! He's the most tasteful singer in the WORLD'."

At the end of their terrific duet [on one of Sinatra's signature tunes, ONE FOR MY BABY (AND ONE MORE FOR THE ROAD)] the two men trade quips. Bennett says: "Let's have another drink! Bartender - fill it up again, will ya? [and then] Sleep tight!" Mayer (as if pinching himself to see if he's really just sung with `The Master' quips to the recording engineer (or to producer Phil Ramone): "Can I get a copy of this?"

The producer himself states a simple truth about these `intuitively' terrific collaborations. Says Mr. Ramone: "Tony is an incredibly good partner for a duet. He has the (right) technique: just relaxed, there is no tension. `We can do as many takes as you want.' Which doesn't turn out to be a lot!"

That `putting-you-at- ease' (one of Mr. Bennett's life-long distinguishing features) is summed up perfectly by Carrie Underwood who was delighted to transcend her country roots in her lovely collaboration on, IT HAD TO BE YOU (the song Johnny Mercer felt was "the best popular song ever written"). Ms Underwood summed up concisely her new musical hero's approach to duets, allowing them to unfold in a natural way:

"[Just] being around Tony is inspiration! It's not like he has to sit you down and say, `You have to do this, this -- this and this.' He doesn't do that. He [like you] wants everything to be very `organic.' He wants people to do duets as themselves - and have them bring their `thing' [just] as he brings HIS thing."

Again, according to the Master:

"Making a Duet album . . . there is a `game' to it - that makes it work. The whole thing is - both singers have to be different: When you hear Ella sing with Louis Armstrong - she sings sweet; he sings `raspy,' like a trumpet solo, rather than a vocal. The success of a `duets' album is the DIFFERENCE between each [singer] the CONTRAST -- between [for instance] a CALM singer, and one that's `going all over,' is what makes it happen."

My personal favorites here? Tony's chemistry with the great Ladies of Song - especially Faith Hill's contribution to THE WAY YOU LOOK TONIGHT (the first "Best Song" Oscar-winner for Dorothy Fields in long ago 1936). Also dear to my heart (thanks to lush and lovely arrangements by Jorge Calandrelli) is Queen Latifah's sensitive reading of WHO CAN I TURN TO (WHEN NOBODY NEEDS ME). And, since I'm forever partial to "Nat's little girl" I especially delight in Natalie Cole's WATCH WHAT HAPPENS. I think (like me) Ms Cole may consider that great song (an overlooked gem from 40 years ago) to be one of Tony's finest recordings. So. Something here for everyone? I think so!
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VINE VOICEon September 20, 2011
Tony Bennett has been the embodiment of the Great American Songbook for so long and has won such a dedicated following with his artistry that he really has nothing left to prove. But he keeps at it for at least three very obvious reasons: he loves what he does, he wants to pay tribute to a uniquely American art form, and he hopes to win ever more fans for the music that has been his passion and livelihood for over 60 years.

This duets album, Tony's second, ably serves the latter purpose. By bringing aboard platinum-selling popular singers, he both expands the audience for jazz and gives people known in other genres an opportunity to try something outside of their usual routine. And there are very few recording artists in the world who dare turn down a chance to work with Bennett. It's an honor for younger performers to be asked, as their careers benefit from his guidance and gravitas, while it's a pleasure for long-established stars, since they know his superb taste will make them sound good. He's the perfect partner: relaxed, sensitive, and giving.

Most of the singers on this 85th birthday collection are of the new generation, but Natalie Cole, Sheryl Crow, Andrea Bocelli, and k.d. lang, who recorded an entire CD with Bennett in 2002, are among the few who have been around for a long time. Only two of his guests -- Aretha Franklin and Willie Nelson -- have anything approaching his longevity. The album boasts a diverse assortment of musical royalty: country, rock, soul and R&B, classical crossover, American and Latin pop, and others.

This release is strongest at the beginning, when several pop performers surprise the listener with understated, frequently amusing, and genuinely pleasurable standards, among them Lady Gaga, John Mayer, and Michael Bublé. Their smooth delivery jibes agreeably with Bennett's raspy croon and lyrical punch. The late lamented Amy Winehouse brings to mind Billie Holiday in a languid rendition of "Body and Soul," and k.d. lang is a dreamy delight on "Blue Velvet."

I found the duet with Aretha Franklin less than successful, partly because of a mismatch in their voices and partly as a result of an overly slow tempo, yet it still has its moments. Sheryl Crow was similarly underwhelming, but the problem for me is an emotional detachment that presents a stark contrast to Franklin's quavering histrionics. With Willie Nelson, however, the album gets back on track; the two singers really seem to enjoy one another. Queen Latifah puts her acting skills to use on "Who Can I Turn To" and Norah Jones positively purrs on "Speak Low."

The remaining seven tracks are a mixed bag. The men -- Josh Groban, Andrea Bocelli, and Alejandro Sanz -- are so different from Tony in their approaches to the material that it sometimes struck me as odd. The ladies, on the other hand, complement his style wonderfully: Natalie Cole on a spirited "Watch What Happens," Faith Hill on a subtle "The Way You Look Tonight," and Carrie Underwood on a lush version of "It Had to Be You." The album closes with a Mariah Carey duet in which she shows admirable restraint.

All in all, an enjoyable recording and a welcome reminder of Tony Bennett's enduring vitality.
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on August 15, 2013
I purchased Duets ll for entertainment while driving my car from city to city.

First I must tell you my listening pleasure is selected jazz & classical instrumental music.

The roster of great artists is excellent. The selection of tunes have proven themselves for many, many years, great.
Tony Bennett blends the tune and words very well, telling the story of the song better than anyone. The balance of tune and words are superb.
The supporting Orchestra is good but not great, but it is amazing what studio players can do, really cool.
The voices are well projected with good presence, not dominated by heavily orchestrated music.
It is wonderful to hear these excellent singers without too much entertainment background. This is a great platform for the artist to really show off how good they are. Lady Gaga is a very versatile and creative singer as is the voice of Amy Winehouse/s voice Want to have a romantic dinner for two, this will help.

I recommend this for a relaxing and enjoyable listen. Enjoy.
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on March 8, 2016
What a brilliant concept to bridge the old and the new in the music world. Superb performances and recording. Tony is one of those few greats of my parents era that has still got it. And it is a special treat to hear some of today's artists sing as if they were from Tony's era. Who knew that Queen Latifah could sing so beautifully! And Faith Hills was awesome- not that the rest of his duet partners were chopped liver. I truly enjoyed this project and you will too.
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on August 7, 2013
Happy 88th Birthday to Tony Bennett! It's almost impossible to believe that 6 decades have passed since he first graced our ears with his incredible voice but even more breathtaking is the fact that he is still performing and recording! One of his favorite instruments outside of the brass and woodwind sections is the piano...and grand pianos have 88 keys! That's one key for every year he's been on this earth...I don't think I'll ever look at another grand piano and not think of him as long as I live! There are other configurations on the grand but those are rare exceptions...one having 92 keys and another having 97 and both made by Boesendorfer, not Steinway! His most recent musical offerings feature duets recorded with a very eclectic group of wonderfully talented artists. Now, I don't own an Amy Winehouse CD nor do I own a Lady Gaga CD or DVD and I wouldn't have thought either of these ladies would do justice to anything Bennett has sung in his varied career. Boy, was I ever wrong!!! Their voices compliment his on a grand scale. Along with the ability to do justice to the songs comes the trademark Tony Bennett way of feeling and interpreting great music...I think all these wonderful artists have "IT" in spades! In fact, they're so good I'm looking forward to a Duets III and IV even...given the talent out there today as many Duets CD's as his voluminous songbook can support! Happy 88th Tony and let's all remember to Keep The Music Playing!
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on July 24, 2016
One of the best albums in recent years. Tony Bennet shares his singular talent with a number of female performers turning out one classic after another. Aretha Franklin brings her greatness to her duet and Amy Winehouse joins Tony in a version of " Body & soul " that will knock you over.
Don't miss this one.
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on December 23, 2015
Love these! A blend of old and new, but I've always loved the old standards, probably comes from watching old movies. I think this one is better than Duets 1. Well, with a few really great exceptions on 1. I like the way Bennett nurtures his partners, stands back and lets them be themselves.
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