In this digital music age where artists releasing albums with mere 9 to 10 songs and then making the public buy the more expensive deluxe version of the same album with a few extra tracks (usually lackluster tracks and remixes) is a norm, Tony Bennett’s "Duets II" has 17 quality duets comprising the likes of Natalie Cole, John Mayer, Andrea Bocelli to Lady GaGa. There are just so many stars from diverse music genres on this album that the only other events where one witnesses more stars would be at The Grammys or The VMAs.
“Duets II” is the highly anticipated follow-up to his hugely successful 2006’s "Duets: An American Classic" This time, the Jazz master duets with 17 solo music stars on the remakes of Jazz standards. The most electrifying track of the set belongs to “The Lady Is A Tramp” entirely due to the stunning chemistry between Mr.Bennett and “The Lady” of the song, GaGa herself.( I don’t think anyone has ever sung the line “I hate Carlifornia, it’s cold and it’s damp” with so much gusto as she does.) Hearing Lady Gaga sing Jazz, I must admit, is a lot more exciting than Natalie Cole, as usual, crooning Jazz on “Watch What Happens” or Michael Buble swinging on “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” although both artists hold their own against Bennett and deliver quite decent vocal performances.
The unmistakable voice of the Queen of soul, Aretha Franklin elegantly opens “How Do You Keep The Music Playing”. As much as I love their phrasing and adlibbing in this slower-than-usual-paced version, the ending of the song for me is overkill, the eruptions of two vocal volcanoes. The song would have been perfect without that bit. And then there is this achingly beautiful duet with the late great Amy Winehouse, a voice that is capable of cutting through your heart and seeping into your soul. Really, her voice is one of those naturally beautiful voices that you can never get tired of hearing. Besides, “Body And Soul” is a perfect choice of song that compliments both their voices and the fact that this is the last of her that we will ever hear makes this song even more precious.
With “When Do The Bells Ring For Me?”, Mariah Carey shows restraint. Her controlled yet beautifully-sung notes leave us wanting more. “It Had To Be You” fits Carrie Underwood’s Mary Poppins-ish syrupy vocals. It is simply enchanting and is one of my favorites on this album. However her fellow country music star Faith Hill’s contribution to “The Way You Look Tonight” is like a dish in need of salt and pepper. It is good but dim in comparison to other tracks. Sheryl Crow duet “The Girl I Love” is a bit of a bore too and so is Queen Latifah duet (“Who Can I Turn To”). “Speak Low” is sexy because of Norah Jones’s signature half-asleep singing but listening to that track and “Blue Velvet”, the K.D.Lang duet, back to back, will certainly put you to sleep.
Latin superstar Alejandro Sanz appears on “Yesterday When I Heard The Rain”. Although it sounds like two different songs sewn together, Alejandro singing this ballad in Spanish will milk your tears even if you can’t work out the meaning. The angelic voices of Bocelli (“Stranger In Paradise”) and Groban (“This Is All I Ask”) are delicacies but the pairing of their smooth classical voices to Mr.Bennett’s smoky Jazz tone sound quite a bit odd. On the other hand, Tony’s duet with Willie Nelson (“On The Sunny Side Of The Street”) is excellent. They both manage to embody the spirit of the song. The arrangement of the song, Nelson’s guitar solo and the blending of their timeless voices: PURE PERFECTION.
At 85, Tony Bennett’s voice sounds deeper yet even richer and sexier, still capable of soaring high and mighty against the contemporary male voices like Michael Buble’s (Don't Get Around Much Anymore) or John Mayer’s (the drunken delight, “One For My Baby, And One For The Road”). “Duets II” arguably is the best purposely-duet album in recent years. Our beloved Jazz Master has done an important job of recreating the magic of these great standards but also reintroducing them to the new audience . (As a result, this album not only gave him his very first number one on Billboard 200 but also made him the oldest living artist to debut at number one.) Doesn’t that explain good music lives on forever and great artists never age?