Fresh off my Coldplay disappointment, I went a different and much more optimistic direction: Tony Bennett. At the age of 85, he is certainly tried and true. Five years ago, Tony had phenomenal success with a duet album, which won three Grammy awards while the accompanying television special numerous Emmy awards. Now he’s back with round 2. “Duets II” has 17 songs with an extremely diverse group of partners.
Tony has found what even he considers to be a rather unexpected second wind to his career, partly because of his more contemporary pairings. His voice is solid, so the variables on the album are the songs chosen and the voices to go with them. You obviously have to like that show tune type sound, which I inexplicably do, despite having never been exposed to it before I was an adult. While playing this album in the kitchen recently, my 13-year old wrinkled her nose (not in a good way) and asked why we were listening to Christmas music since it sounds like the Harry Connick, Jr. album I have listened to obsessively around the holidays for years.
I love the sound of this album, and the fact that you hear 17 different partners makes it its own little playlist. One thing that is kind of cool is that the voices take center stage. There is no AutoTune, no funny sound effects. You really hear their voices, in some cases differently than you’re used to.
Here is a quick rundown of the songs/artists on the album in sequence of my most to least favorite.
- “The Lady is a Tramp” with Lady GaGa. Well, you could have knocked me over with a meat purse I was so surprised that this was my #1 pick. GaGa complements Tony’s voice and the era of the song perfectly. And who knew that underneath the feathers and puppets and horns she has a really good voice that I don’t think we hear in this manner on her own work. She and Tony have a cute rapport here, too.
- “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” with Michael Bublé. No one is more surprised than I am to have Michael Bublé be one of my favorites on the album. He always sounds like he’s singing the theme song to a sitcom for some reason (Bosom Buddies maybe? I can’t place which one). He comes across strong here, and his voice with Tony’s sound great when they’re singing together.
- “On the Sunny Side of the Street” with Willie Nelson. Full disclosure: I’m not the hugest fan of Willie, but this song kind of works with his voice. It’s sort of a lighthearted song, and Willie talks more than sings, plus his voice is so different than Tony’s that they sound pleasantly distinct.
- “Speak Low” with Norah Jones. Even though this is a slower, quieter song, Norah’s voice is so pretty and distinctive that she makes it interesting, which distinguishes it from some of the other slower songs.
- “Blue Velvet” with k.d. Lang. This song is intended to be understated, so I can’t be too critical of it not being an in-your-face fun song. k.d. (I guess that’s how to refer to her) has a lovely voice, but it’s hard to outdo the original on this particular song.
- “The Way You Look Tonight” with Faith Hill. This is such a pretty song that it might be daunting to try to cover it, but Faith does an admirable job. Her voice is showcased here a little differently than I’m used to hearing it with country music.
- “Who Can I Turn To (When No One Needs Me)” with Queen Latifah. I almost forgot that The Queen can sing; I thought she most wore makeup and ate Jenny Craig food. These slower songs are hard because they don’t pull you in as much. Queen (can I just call her Queen?) does a nice job with her part. It’s a nice song.
- “It Had to Be You” with Carrie Underwood. Like Faith Hill, we’re not used to hearing Carrie when she isn’t belting out a song about a one-night stand or vandalizing the car of a cheating boyfriend. It turns out she has a really pretty voice. I’m sure it’s hard for these country gals to slow it down and hold the notes. Not bad, though.
- “One for My Baby (And One More for the Road)” with John Mayer. John does not try to outshine Tony, which is commendable but also makes this one a little forgettable. Maybe he was gearing up for his throat surgery.
- “The Girl I Love” with Sheryl Crow. Again, quiet song, quiet Sheryl. Not bad, just not that special for me since Sheryl’s voice doesn’t really do anything interesting here.
- “Watch What Happens” with Natalie Cole. I am just not feeling the screechy voices (see Aretha below).
- “How Do You Keep the Music Playing” with Aretha Franklin. The music itself and Tony’s voice are so smooth and mellow that Aretha’s screechiness feels kind of grating to me. She can’t help going completely overboard once she gets going.
- “Body and Soul” with Amy Winehouse. This was Amy’s swan song, and for that reason I wish I liked it more. I just don’t like where she took her voice with this one.
- “Stranger in Paradise” with Andrea Bocelli. Since Andrea actually is a classical singer, I’m not going to fault him for making sounds that I don’t really like, but I don’t think those sounds works with this genre.
- “This Is All I Ask” with Josh Groban. Josh tried to make this song too much about Josh, which might be why he is Oprah’s favorite singer—they have that in common. I’m picturing Tony saying, “Dude, this is not an opera. Plus this is my gig, not yours.” We’ll find out for sure when the documentary comes out about the making of the album.
- “Yesterday I Heard the Rain” with Alejandro Sanz. Um, Alejandro doesn’t sing in English, which I might excuse if I liked the sound of his voice more, but I didn’t. So not only did I not like listening, but I couldn’t sing along since I’ve made an effort to forget all of my high school Spanish. It could be educational for my younger kids who are still slogging through Spanish I and II, though.
- “When Do the Bells Ring for Me” with Mariah Carey. I would only have been surprised if this wasn’t my least favorite. Mariah can’t help but overdo it. I know that’s her thing, but I don’t like it. Sorry, Mariah. Say hi to the twins for me.
Here is the video for Tony and Amy Winehouse. Enjoy!
Filed under: Album Reviews