Release Date: Sep 20, 2011
Record label: Columbia / RPM Records / Sony Music Entertainment
Genre(s): Jazz, Standards, Jazz Instrument, Guitar Jazz, American Popular Song, Vocal Jazz, Traditional Pop
Say this for the 17 popstars who teamed with the greatest living singer of American popular standards: They're brave. Luckily, Bennett rescues most of his partners. (Josh Groban and Andrea Bocelli drip so much goop on their ballads, even Bennett can't mop it up.) Aretha Franklin and Bennett blow the roof off "How Do You Keep the Music Playing." Amy Winehouse reminds us what we've lost in a huskily sensuous "Body and Soul." And Lady Gaga whoops through "The Lady Is a Tramp" with such gusto, you can hear Bennett grinning.
Coinciding with his turning 85, Bennett's latest sounds like a fantasy birthday party in full swing, one where an outrageously starry array of guests share the mic with a host as twinkling as ever. Soaked in old-world schmaltz, its treats include a hilariously spirited version of "The Lady is a Tramp" with Lady Gaga in wisecracking dame mode. The centrepiece, though, is a version of "Body and Soul", Amy Winehouse's last recording.
Tony Bennett’s first album of celebrity duets (2006's Duets: An American Classic) featured an impressive cast of superstars answering the call from the dean of pop vocalists, but the arrangements were overly safe -- virtually all of them ballads with soft strings or brassy finger-snappers. Duets II follows the first by five years and features, surprisingly, a cast just as star-laden, but also arrangements that are much more dynamic, and suitable for each song and its participants. (Marion Evans, a veteran whose career goes back nearly as far as Bennett's, handles the charts for a few of the best here.
The comparison certainly isn’t an automatic one, but Tony Bennett has lived the life of a big-time rock ‘n’ roller. Think about it. He created a multi-generational standard (“I Left My Heart in San Francisco”), covered a stone-cold country hit (Hank Williams’ “Cold Cold Heart”), spent years on top before losing it all to a new music movement (thanks to the Beatles), took a brief shot at acting and wasn’t good at it (a movie you’ve never heard of), and eventually nearly died of a cocaine overdose before managing to resurrect his career to unparalleled heights.