Well, he’s done it again. Tony Bennett has released his 60th studio album, Duets II, a 17-track package consisting solely of — you guessed it — duets with some of the most popular names in music today. For the most part, the hour-long record blends together into some form of nuanced, easy listening — a soundtrack suitable for fall homework and paper-writing, but maybe not much else.

Tony Bennett

Duets II
Columbia


Not to put any blame on the songs themselves — you know what you’re in for when you press play on composers like George Gershwin, Duke Ellington and Richard Rodgers. Tony Bennett, who teamed up with some very Grammy-ish names, does these tunes no disservice, but certainly doesn’t take any exciting artistic liberties with them either. Then again, at this point in the game, Bennett is enough of a legend that he doesn’t really need to prove or reinvent himself in order to produce something considered “good,” but it does get boring after a while.

There are standouts, of course. The big band-esque Lady Gaga track, “The Lady Is a Tramp,” is loaded with enough youthful zing to make you forget Bennett is actually 85 years old. Whether or not you’re on the Gaga train, she proves her unparalleled vocal prowess and ability to hold her own against a legend.

Another of the album’s gems that has garnered an enormous amount of attention is his duet with Amy Winehouse, “Body and Soul.” Not only was it her last recording, but the song is worth the hype on its own. The two voices mesh surprisingly well, and sometimes the soulfully deep Winehouse even takes the lower harmony part, which works like a charm.

The effortless “Speak Low,” with guest Norah Jones, has enough cool and calm to carry listeners straight into a smoky 1960s jazz club. Aretha Franklin’s “How Do You Keep The Music Playing” is the collision between two musical giants who are popular in two very different genres, and the result is a triumph.

On the whole, the most successful songs are those with female complements since they embody the oddly satisfying aural juxtaposition that comes with the combination of Bennett’s low, crumbly sound with a woman’s voice. Unfortunately, the male duets often feel like throwaways. Most obviously, John Mayer’s husky vocal quality is just too similar to Tony Bennett’s — for the two to duet seems almost pointless.

The songs are stuffed with enough time-filling spoken banter to make anyone go crazy (“Hey John!” “Yes, sir?” “Let’s have a drink.” “If you insist.”). But that old-fashioned ease, once genuine and now plastic, has just always been Tony Bennett’s style, and he’s not going to change it now.

The deal with Tony Bennett is to expect the expected. As long as you don’t want anything more than pleasant, old-time, solidly written songs, you’re going to like what you hear on Duets II.

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