Usually, I don’t review albums after they’re released. I’m usually so caught up on artists that I know and albums that are 15-20 plus years old, I don’t usually give any new releases any time of day. However, when the new school year started and Barbra Streisand released her new album What Matters Most, I wanted to change that. So, I have. However, I do stick to artists I primarily recognize – hence Bennett and Estefan. Below is what I formally think of their new releases.
Tony Bennett: Duets II – 2011 (Columbia)
Tony Bennett has been a traditional pop mainstay for years, he needs no introduction. He’s been singing, albeit crooning tunes for decades. People all over the music industry unashamedly adore him (never mind his 9/11 comment). There are many great reasons to adore the man, most especially: his styling and his voice. Everything about Bennett is top notch. His duets album comes as no surprise, as his first album of duets in 2006 reigned supreme on the charts during the holiday season, and spawned a great music video/documentary directed by Rob Marshall – Tony Bennett: An American Classic which won an EMMY award.
This new album deserves the same, if not more praise. Bennett, having recently celebrated his 85th birthday sounds amazing. The song selection is wonderful. What stands out even more are his duet partners chiefly: Lady Gaga and the late Amy Winehouse. It is Lady Gaga’s duet with Bennett on “The Lady is a Tramp” that opens the album. Deliciously jazzy and the ad-libbing and banter between the two is so charming. To say Gaga sounds at home singing Jazz, goes without saying. Someone sign her to the Verve label quick. She could take nods from Ella, Billie, Sarah or even Natalie Cole with divine ease. Gaga sounds like she’s really enjoying herself, great opening track. John Mayer has a few drinks with Bennett on “One for my baby,” a duet that tells a great story between the two men. It’s funny and honestly, you find yourself wanting to have a drink with both of them.
One of the gems here is undoubtedly the duet with Amy Winehouse on “Body and Soul.” I’ve never really appreciated Winehouse, although her sordid tale has been splashed around on tabloid after tabloid page. Unfortunately, this recording the last one Winehouse would make before her untimely death in July. What ever her personal strife or struggles with substance abuse, she sounds wonderful on this track. Befitting perhaps that her last recording is with such a respected man as Bennett. The video of them recording their track is a time capsule, a moment that is all too bittersweet in the wake of her loss.
The album holds up very well, although it becomes a bit too serious with Josh Groban and Andrea Bocelli, who are both brilliant singers but sound a little too classical and stiff against the sumptuous Jazz orchestrations. ‘Yesterday I Heard the Rain” with Alejandro Sanz reminds so much of Sarah Vaughan’s Brazilian Romance but it just doesn’t work, I don’t know. I rather wish the headliner would have soloed on the track.
Country music’s superstars Faith Hill and Carrie Underwood both are wonderful on “The Way You Look Tonight” and “It had to be You” rather nice to hear them out of their country element. Musical versatility is so nice to hear when certain artists cross into different genres.
My favorite tracks include, “Blue Velvet” with k.d. lang, who sounds wonderful, “Who Can I Turn To” surprised me greatly, I had no idea that Queen Latifah had such a lovely singing voice, her primary records having been in the realms of rap and hip-hop.
I won’t even discuss the last track “When Do the Bells Ring for Me” with Mariah Carey, which I could take or leave – it would sound much better if she didn’t have to insert her regular histrionic vocal ornaments (that she is famous for).
All-in-all, Bennett’s second offering of duets, is an overstuffed cornucopia of deliciousness. Some might say that the arrangements are too lush, but they work beautifully. Tony Bennett brings out the best in his duet partners and everyone involved has a good time, so the listener can easily infer. Though this may not be a “definitive” work by Tony Bennett, it displays his staying power and how well regarded he still is.
Gloria Estefan: Little Miss Havana 2011
It’s been a long time since “Conga” made waves back in 1985. Since her debut with The Miami Sound Machine, Cuban American and 7 time GRAMMY winning vocalist, Gloria Estefan has been up and she’s been down. Yet, she’s never been away for too long. Oh wait.. the last time she released a full ENGLISH album was back in 2003. So, maybe she has been away a while. All the more reason to come back with a BANG right? Well she does just that on her new album Little Miss Havana which dropped today. Produced by Pharrell Williams, Motiff, Emilio Estefan, Drop Dead Beats and the artist herself, this new album points the “Conga” and “Rhythm is Gonna Get You” singer in the same direction that made her famous. Only the sound is “updated.” Singles likes the title song, “Little Miss Havana” and “Wepa” have made waves. However, something gets lost.
There are way too many people producing the album, the energy is there but it’s a hodgepodge of this and that: latin beats, pop music, electronica et al. It’s annoying and headache inducing. Okay, “Little Miss Havana” is cute, but that’s the only saving grace on the album. I dare anyone NOT to get annoyed with “Right Away” the repeated “lets dance, all night” makes me want to scream and throw something. Reviews on iTunes seem to be mixed: listeners either love it or hate it.
Which ever side of the fence you’re on, it has to be said that there are no tracks that remind even me of “Dr. Beat” or “Words Get in the Way”
Unfortunately, this album is so far from what I expected. I think I’ll stick to her Greatest Hits and probably listen to the “Megamix” from 1998 VH1 Divas Live, I’m sure you ALL remember that. Looks like I need to wipe the dust off of MSM and Gloria Estefan’s late ’80s offerings.