This week I review two releases from two major artists from Columbia/Legacy.
Tony Bennett, "The Classics"
This two-CD disc, recently released by Columbia, finds the bard selecting his own favorites through his more than 60-year career. One CD features the songs that made him famous, while the second disc is a series of duets he's done over the years with apparent and not-so-apparent partners.
According to Bennett, he chose the songs he believed had a timeless quality as well as a "live" feel, which certainly makes sense to me, since Bennett was and is the ultimate live performer. There are the hits, of course - disc one contains the obvious, including "The Boulevard of Broken Dreams" - no, not the Green Day song - recorded in 1950, his first single, to "I Left My Heart in San Francisco," recorded in 1962, and the song that made Tony a superstar.
But there's a lot of great stuff in between, including his version of "Blue Velvet," recorded in 1951, "Rags to Riches," "Just in Time" and "The Way You Look Tonight." This is all stellar material and what we would expect hear from Bennett.
Disc 2 is where things get really interesting, with some very intriguing - and fun - duets, including "New York, New York" with Frank Sinatra, "Evenin'" with the great Ray Charles, "The Best is Yet to Come" with jazz diva Diana Krall, an amazing "For Once In My Life" with Stevie Wonder" and a poignant "Body and Soul" with the late, great Amy Winehouse. But my favorite has to be a wonderfully fun duet with Lady Gaga on "The Lady is a Tramp." I have to give Bennett an extra tip of the hat for this one, as it's by far the most inspired track on the set. Gaga really understands not only the song but also the genre of "saloon singing," as Bennett often has said about his style of singing. This song alone is worth the price of admission. Really, really hammy fun!
Johnny Cash, "Out Among the Stars"
It's really astonishing how much fresh Johnny Cash material has been unearthed by Columbia since the man in black died 10 years ago, with the fabulous bootleg series and other extra tracks. But this is something entirely different and unexpected - the discovery of a complete album by the Man in Black, recorded in Nashville with the great Nashville producer Billy Sherrill. None of this material has been heard before now.
None of the songs had been covered by Cash before, and the story is the cache was found among his archives by the family. Included are duets with Waylon Jennings and June Carter Cash. Recorded in 1980, this also was an effort to "update" Cash's sound, but the effort really was unneeded. A lot of major country stars weren't selling well in the 1980s as a new breed - modern country - was dominating radio. Personally, I prefer the old guys, but Cash sounds like himself more than anyone else on this. No matter what he sung, it always was with his heart and soul.
"Out Among the Stars" is set to be released March 25.