In keeping with my unintended  “All Tony Bennett, All the Time” theme for this week…

Tony Bennett released Duets II as a celebration of his 85th birthday — happy birthday Tony! Sporting 17 tracks with an array of young and old artists that cross all manner of genres (R&B, Country, Rap, Jazz, Vocal Standards, Pop, Rock…) the album serves well as a tribute to Tony’s incredibly long — and continuing — career. We’re talking about a career that spans more than sixty years and in many ways is at it’s most vital point today — incredible.

(Side-bar -> I plan to do a piece on “artists with the longest active careers” and need your suggestions for folks I should include. There’s Rose Clooney, Etta James, Tony B, Jack Jones, Sinatra … let me know who else should be in the mix.)

Bennett’s career and birthday celebration aside however, I don’t place Duets II into the “gotta have” stack. I’ve never been a big fan of these cross genre duet albums — finding the match-ups jarring and  uneven as often as not — and this album doesn’t really do anything to change my mind.

It is interesting to hear these folks take a swing at singing some of Tony’s greatest  songs but some of the efforts are uninspired … and these classic tracks deserve better. That said there are a few nice renditions that were delivered by some very surprising artists.

I almost can’t believe what I’m about to type … Lady Gaga delivers the best effort on this album (ack!) carrying off a fresh and fun version of “The Lady is a Tramp”. She does a great job with the vocals and Tony seems genuinely taken with Gaga’s semi-bofo ad libs.

If that wasn’t weird enough, the other song that I thought stuck out (positively) on Duets II was “The Girl I Love” with Sheryl Crow. I was a pretty big fan of “early Rock” Crow but was floored by her impressive performance and how nicely her vocals complement Tony’s natural style.

I usually love Queen Latifah’s standards efforts and she does well with “Who Can I turn To” but it’s not up there with her other American Songbook work. Similarly I was just generally pleased with Natalie Cole, k.d. lang, Nora Jones, and Michael Bublé but not blown away by any means.

Wanted to like Amy Winehouse’s attempt to channel Billie Holiday with “Body and Soul” but sadly I just didn’t. Willie Nelson does an interesting “On the Sunny Side of the Street” that Tony does genuinely seem to enjoy … the rest of the numbers were pretty much meh for me.

Bottom line here is that none of these tracks are songs that I really want to hear again. It was fun to be surprised by Lady Gaga and Sheryl Crow but I’m not hot to queue up those numbers for another go. It’s me I know … I just don’t really get much out of any of these late career/cross genre duets albums. I wasn’t drawn to Sinatra’s Duets/Duets II albums and likewise I don’t get juiced up for Tony’s versions either.

If you are signed up on one of the “all you can eat” music streaming services (MOG, Spotify, Napster, Rhapsody…) then have a listen, but unless you’re a Tony Bennett super-freak and have to have everything he records, I don’t recommend spending hard dollars for this CD.

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