Last fall this writer was on holiday in New York City and was unbelievably lucky enough (with a little bit more money spent on Stub Hub) to score tickets for a charity gala event at the beautiful Beacon Theatre on Broadway. ‘Stand Up For Heroes’ was truly one of those magical, once in a lifetime New York nights. Hosted by Jersey born, on-point political satirist, and top T.V. man Jon Stewart this evening raised money for wounded American troops and even included a personal message from President Barack Obama. The night brought the best laughs from comedy legend Jerry Seinfeld and the greatest hits from music’s boss Bruce Springsteen, but even this living legend had to give way for someone more iconic. The stage was set for the decades made legend of classic crooner Tony Bennett.
As he took to the stage it was like he never left, and in reality he never has. Frank, Dino and Sammy may sadly be gone but Tony’s still going, 80 plus strong bringing the good times and cool back to music, able to rule the changing modern mainstream constantly, no matter who owns it. Tony’s 2006 ‘Duets’ album – featuring the likes of Paul Mcartney, Sting and Elton John – was so successful that it’s only right Mr. Bennett plays it again. With Duets II the epic songman looks to push the envelope to send himself further up the charts in conjunction with his 85th birthday. Take it away Tony. Many happy returns.
Tony Bennett starts things off going Gaga with pop’s leading lady as the Pokerface singer and the I Left My Heart In San Francisco one bridge creative gaps with the racy favourite The Lady Is a Tramp. Then with leading rock star John Mayer, he channels his old friend Sinatra sublimely like only he alive can on One for My Baby. Body and Soul with the late, great Amy Winehouse is what everybody’s been waiting to hear and this last record is real, touching and full of heart and life. These two seem to have bonded well; it’s a shame their two voices that fit together perfectly can’t be put on wax again. Rest peacefully Amy.
Don’t Get Around Much Anymore sees this living legend and young crooner Michael Bublé keep this Vocal Jazz music alive, breathing traditional and nostalgic air into the charts fuelled by the pair’s class act charisma and charm. It’s clear to see and hear in Bublé that this heir to the throne has learnt from the best. K.D. Lang and Sheryl Crow keep the respective greats Blue Velvet and The Girl I Love good, but it’s when Bennett is joined by another legend of days gone by that the future looks bright. Aretha Franklin’s appearance on How Do You Keep the Music Playing keeps this record rolling like a stone.
Then country legend Willie Nelson grows some American roots on the sweet Sunny Side of the Street before Hollywood hip hop icon Queen Latifah helps this CD come full circle on Who Can I Turn To. As popular contemporaries Josh Groban, Andrea Bocelli and Alejandro Sanz lend their powerful voices to the potent This Is All I Ask, Stranger in Paradise and Yesterday I Heard the Rain respectively these huge, revisited, assisted hits help make this album that much more classic. Still, it’s the female presences that help make this birthday celebratory release that more formidable from Faith Hill (The Way You Look Tonight) to Carrie Underwood (It Had to Be You), all the way to the Mariah Carey closer, When Do the Bells Ring for Me. Tony still just has a way with the ladies.
Speaking of which, the greatest moments of this hit collection come when Bennett duets with modern day Easy Listening/jazz legend Norah Jones for the velvety-voiced, smooth, deep draw Speak Low that furthers his and her legacy. Or the long-awaited pairing with legend Nat King Cole’s daughter Natalie for Watch What Happens. No doubt Daddy’s looking down … proud. On this sequel to a classic, this old crooner shows that he can do one even better and move with the times, recruiting the best and most diverse around today from modern music’s boiling pot. Still with all this top draw, A-list talent only one, one in a million man stands out, steals the show and makes this duet album his. That man is Tony Bennett. Happy Birthday sir.