Street Sounds: Bennett brings out the best

Tony Bennett: Duets II

The music world has seen a lot of duets in recent years. The concept has spilled over into a regular feature on some recordings that serve less than inspired ideas.

But don’t let Carlos Santana, random country or rap artists fool ya, because the duet can go beyond “feat.” on album credits. Talk to Tony Bennett about this.

Bennett’s Duets II comes from the era and genre that made duetting something special –– the big band-theme music era that ran from the early 1950s until the mid ‘60s. Perhaps this gave rise to “The Singer, Not the Song” phrase, but vocalists were working together to serve the song, not to promote individual showcasing.

Bennett was there with Crosby, Como, and Sinatra. At 85, he’s still singing wonderfully, the last man standing and a beacon of the golden age of swing, balladry, and uptown cool.

This is all here on Duets II. The sounds are timeless and provocative. It’s a long player, lush, dreamy, and mellow, and it hearkens back to low-lit nightclubs, tailored apparel, smoky haze, and sleek automobiles.

This atmosphere that Bennett inhabits infects the performances of all involved, and there’s not a single phone-in, no slack is given.

Names are big, but several give luminous readings of some of Bennett’s classics: Aretha Franklin on How Do You Keep the Music Playing,  Amy Winehouse on Body and Soul, Lady Gaga’s The Lady Is a Tramp, Norah Jones’ Speak Low and Willie Nelson’s double duty on vocal and guitar solo in The Sunny Side of the Street.

These songs supply some smooth tears in the velvet; nostalgia is strong, with exuberance, not regret.

–– Dean Gordon-Smith is a local musician who writes a weekly music review column for The Morning Star.