When he recorded his two discs of duets, Frank Sinatra literally phoned his performances in and didn’t share the studio with the artists who were featured on the songs (hey, he was the Chairman of the Board and he could do that if he wanted to.) For his Duets album (a celebration of his 80th birthday), Tony Bennett insisted on sharing the studio with those who were coming to celebrate his music and the respect and playful camaraderie is apparent throughout the resulting disc.
The songs are from the breadth of Bennett’s amazing career with backing by Bennett’s quartet and (on some cuts) a tasteful big band. Bennett is in fine voice (it’s not as supple as it once was but it is still a wonder to hear) and his duet partners slip into the saloon singer vibe without sacrificing their own unique voices. (Well most of them do anyway, Barbra Streisand and Celine Dion…on “Smile” and “If I Ruled the World”…both had a hard time damping down their diva-like flourishes.)
The Dixie Chicks are fun and loose on the opening “Lullaby of Broadway”, Stevie Wonder adds a nice harmonica solo along with his soulful vocals on “For Once in my Life”, Bono is wonderful on “I Wanna Be Around”, and Juanes is a fine match on a bi-lingual version of “The Shadow of Your Smile”.
Big names step up to share the mike with the old pro and do him and themselves proud: James Taylor (a sprightly “Put on a Happy Face”), Michael Buble (“Just in Time”), John Legend (a swinging “Sing You, Sinners”), Elton John (a marvelously loose and affectionate “Rags to Riches”), Paul McCartney (a bit mannered but still heartfelt “The Very Thought of You”), Elvis Costello (“Are We Havin’ Any Fun”), Sting (“The Boulevard of Broken Dreams”), and Tim McGraw (“Cold, Cold Heart”).
Especially noteworthy are songs done with Diana Krall (a frisky take on “The Best is Yet to Come”) and one of his favorite duet partners, K.D. Lang (a lovely “Because of You”.)
Tony takes a grand solo vocal (accompanied only by piano) on his legendary signature tune, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” before closing out the disc with a lovely and appropriate “How Do You Keep the Music Playing?”, a duet with George Michael (who reminds us that, beneath the tabloid punch line he’s allowed himself to become, here is still an evocative singer.)
Duets: An American Classic is a fine tribute to (and showcase for) one of the best singers of our time…and a gift for fans of classic and classy vocalists everywhere.