21 September 2011

Tony Bennett: The Man of the Hour

Unless you've just emerged from weeks of Internet and television deprivation (I'll try not to fantasize about that too long), you know that Tony Bennett, who recently celebrated his 85th birthday, just released a second 'album' of duets, on which he sings with Lady Gaga, Aretha Franklin and almost every other partner you could wish for. Gay Talese depicted the Bennett-Gaga lovefest recording session for 'The Lady Is a Tramp' in six memorable pages in the issue of The New Yorker dated 19 September, but the first 'single' from Duets II is Bennett's collaboration with Amy Winehouse on 'Body and Soul' not long before her death. (Sales of the single benefit the Amy Winehouse Foundation.) I'm still getting to know the new album, but I'd cite those three duets (with Gaga, Franklin and Winehouse) and a fourth, Bennett and Norah Jones singing 'Speak Low', as being among the best of a very good batch.

You can of course download Duets II from iTunes, Amazon or wherever else you download music. But (in part because of parallel issues involving relative prices of ebooks and printed books) I'm providing a link only to the Amazon.com page for the CD, where it's currently $3.00 cheaper than the download.

Tony Bennett was one of my earliest favorites (along with Dinah Washington and Peggy Lee) and has remained with me through all the changes in media (45s, LPs, CDs, MP3s) and (other people's) styles. Not long ago, one CD of vintage Bennett material survived many months of almost daily play in the changer in the car, and I'd like to single out this particular line-up of songs to recommend today. It is in fact no longer available as a CD, but as an MP3 album it's going strong. It's what survives (along with some 'CD extras') of Bennett's 1965 LP If I Ruled the World--Songs for the Jet Set. It's very much the pop Bennett (as distinguished from the jazz, well represented in the compilation bearing that title), and I recommend it in its totality, even though you'd have to go to another album of the same era (or a greatest-hits compilation) for two indispensable pop cuts ('The Good Life', 'I Wanna Be Around...').

And, if you'd like even more, take a look at Bruce Ricker's 2007 tribute while it's available on Netflix instant play.

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