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He's Still the Best, And He's Still Here...Appreciate Him, Will You Please?
, September 20, 2011
This review is from: Tony Bennett: Duets II (Audio CD)
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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