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Tony-B-CD

Produced by Phil Ramone, it shouldn't surprise anyone that Tony Bennett, at 85, hang glides through this collection of great songs like an eagle with wings spread in flight. While it's not quite a perfect sail, it  all comes close. And, who in the pop music field today can touch a legend who has been before the public for almost 50 years and still going strong? Comparisons are rendered moot. The multi-award Grammy winner is solid gold.

Totally present and in fine, burnt-in-wood, raspy baritone that is his signature, Bennett dominates this disc with expressive phrasing and definitive understanding of the lyric line. As good as his singing partners may be on several cuts, it is still his album and he rules like no one else . Too, his warmth and buoyant charisma shine through like few others at this stage of their career. Sinatra's famous duets' albums from 1993-94 were hits with the public if not with critics who didn't buy the gimmickry such as guest singers phoning in their harmonies long-distance. But it was a special album. However, Bennett's second duets' album (and, there's now reason to think there might be a third down the line according to recent interviews,) is a milestone with considerable staying power based on the magic of capturing so many greats singing live in the studio with Bennett. 

Like its original counterpart from 2006, this second collection is similar with doses of saccharin and smoothe honey vocals that follow Bennett's strong lead. In fact, he dominates the duets which is not a complaint.

Most notable is Bennett's pairing with the late Amy Winehouse on Body and Soul with lyrics by by Edward Heyman, Robert Sour and Frank Eyton and music by Johnny Green. The song's interesting history includes that it was written in 1930 as a vehicle for Gertrude Lawrence and introduced in this country by Libby Holman that same year. It has been recorded by every great jazz singer from the golden age of American song.

Here, the cut is achingly beautiful and their voices blend perfectly on what would be Winehouse's last recording. Both are in bluesy mode and in their element. The results are fraught with the most subtle and fiercest yearnings two lovers could imagine. The pathos is palatable. The voices are made for each other. Winehouse never sounded better. The arrangement is a standard by which other attempts should live up to. The cut is a master class in unrequited longing.

Other particular standouts on the disc include special moments with partners like, Andrea Bocelli, Natalie Cole, Josh Groban, Faith Hill, k.d. lang, Lady Gaga and Spanish singer Alejandro Sanz whose haunting passion consumes Yesterday I Heard the Rain (Lees-Manzanero,) a Bennett staple for decades that is a serious stand out here.

Country diva Faith Hill sparkles next to Bennett on The Way You Look Tonight. Norah Jones and Bennett fair well on the 1943 evergreen Speak Low by Kurt Weill (music) and Ogden Nash (lyrics.) More interesting history; This was introduced by Mary Martin and Kenny Baker in Broadway's One Touch of Venus, this song has been well documented and also recorded by the greats .  The contemporary cut  holds its own in spades and will join their ranks. Given a wistful reading that conjures late night night intimacy. Ms. lang and Bennett, who have toured together extensively in the past, give succinct takes on a terrific rendition of the 1950 Bobby Vinton hit Blue Velvet (Wayne-Morris.) Lady Gaga's high-energy camp comes through on a rollicking take on the 1937 Rodgers and Hart mainstay, The Lady Is a Tramp. Their musical chemistry is infectious and it comes off as a fun romp. Bennett also scores well with Queen Latifah and Mariah Carey.

How Do You Keep the Music Playing? by Alan and Marilyn Bergman in duet with Aretha Franklin misses the mark a tad. Another of Bennett's signature tunes that exudes heartfelt vocals, this isn't the best choice for Franklin however. Her freelance style with overwrought, ornamental melisma is not called for and is not the composers' intent. Likewise, Sheryl Crow doesn't make the right connection on The Girl I Love by the Gershwin's, which is a loose rework of the original The Man I Love from 1927. And, John Mayer and Bennett just don't fit. Mayer is cool. Bennett is warm. Not a match. Michael Buble' and Bennett fare a little better on the Ellington-Russell standard Don't Get Around Much Anymore. However, Buble' typically breezes through the lyric line where more substance over style is called for. His self-absorbed delivery only emphasizes Bennett's strengths.

The Charles DeForest torcher When Will the Bell's Ring For Me? gets special treatment from Mariah Carey with Bennett as it closes this compelling album. Both make great sounds capping this must-have jewel for any collection. Bennett has often said that his goal has always been to choose good songs and sing them well. Looks like he made it one more time.