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Album review: Tony Bennett's 'Duets II'

September 19, 2011 |  6:00 pm

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“Children everywhere,” Tony Bennett observes on his new album of all-star duets, and it’s hard not to pick up a note of panic in his voice. If it’s there, he comes by it honestly: At 85, Bennett is by some margin the oldest artist here; several of his partners come in at close to a quarter of his age. “Duets II” follows a similarly configured 2006 collection, but where that set featured plenty of over-50s (think Barbra Streisand and Paul McCartney), this one includes a sizable youth contingent: Lady Gaga, Carrie Underwood, the late Amy Winehouse. Pick up “Duets II” at Target and you’ll get a bonus track with Jackie Evancho, who’s 11. No wonder the guy feels surrounded.

Some of these May-December cuts sound great, particularly Bennett and Gaga’s “The Lady Is a Tramp,” in which he can’t stifle his amusement with her drama-kid shtick. (“I love to rowboat with you and your wife in Central Park Lake,” Gaga ad-libs pricelessly.) And, of course, it’s a beautiful bummer to hear Winehouse do her best Billie Holiday in “Body and Soul.” A clunky, chemistry-free collaboration with John Mayer, though, deflates the album’s cross-generational promise; it’s equally embarrassing for both men.

Bennett fares better in gorgeous duets with k.d. lang and Aretha Franklin, and his romp with Willie Nelson is precisely as charming as you’d expect. But for an old pro like Bennett, there’s a name for that kind of stuff: child’s play.

—Mikael Wood

“Duets II”
Tony Bennett
(RPM/Columbia)
Three stars (out of four)

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