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CD Reviews:
The Listening Room: Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga, Jennifer Hudson, John Mellencam, Tweedy and more...

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

Posted: Tuesday, September 23, 2014

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Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga

“Cheek To Cheek”


Grade: B

Putting Tony Bennett in the realm of the Great American Songbook is a no-brainer; it’s the guy’s bread and butter, and even at the age of 88 he sings it with such definitive authority you’d think he invented the thing. No, the wild card in this equation is Lady Gaga, the avant pop chanteuse whose provocative sensibilities seem utterly incompatible with the decorum of Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern and the others whose songs populate this set. But “Cheek To Cheek” works; having demonstrated an ability to hang with Bennett on his “Duets II” album in 2011, she answers the call again here over the course of 11 standards (15 on the must-have deluxe edition), adopting a variety of voices – from gutsy belter to purring chanteuse – to complement the slight, welcome rasp that now makes Bennett’s silky delivery even more earthy. Each of the singers gets their moments in the solo spotlight here – Bennett on an intimate, late-night take of Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady,” Gaga on Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life” and a sweet, jazzy rendition of Porter’s “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” – but the real joy of “Cheek To Cheek” are their duets. Though Bennett is certainly more grandfather and mentor than paramour, the two generate a frisky playfulness that’s frisky rather than flirty on tracks such as Porter’s “Anything Goes,” Johnny Mercer’s “Goody Goody,” “Firefly” and Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing).” The supporting album’s supporting cast is top-notch, too, from top-shelf arrangers to ace musicians such as Bennett’s own quartet, saxophonist Joe Lovano, trumpeter George Rabbai and the late flutist Paul Horn, whose solo on “Nature Boy” is one of his last recorded works. The pairing of Bennett and Gaga may cock some eyebrows, yes, but you won’t be able to take your ears away from it, either.

New & Noteworthy:

Kenny Chesney, “The Big Revival” (Blue Chair/Columbia Nashville): The modern country icon continues his association with producer Buddy Cannon and duets with Grace Potter on the track “Wild Child.”

Leonard Cohen, “Popular Problems” (Columbia): Pop’s poet laureate continues his prolific streak on this nine-song set, collaborating this time with onetime Madonna cohort Patrick Leonard.

Jennifer Hudson, “JHud” (RCA): The “American Idol” and “Dreamgirls” star is back with her third album, which includes collaborations with Iggy Azalea, R. Kelly and T.I.

Lenny Kravitz, “Strut” (Roxie/Kobalt): Kravitz returns from his “The Hunger Games” sojourn with a rocking set that also launches his own Roxie Records imprint, named for his late mother.

John Mellencamp, “Plain Spoken” (Republic): The Indiana troubadour’s first release in four years, and first of all new songs in six, lives up to its title with a combination of introspective confessionals and sharp socio-political observations.

Tweedy, “Sukierae” (dBpm): Jeff Tweedy steps out of Wilco for a moment for this arresting two-disc collaboration with his 18-year-old son Spencer on drums.

Also Out: Aphex Twin, “Syro” (Warp); Marcia Ball, “The Tattooed Lady and the Alligator Man” (Alligator); Big & Rich, “Gravity” (Kobalt); Joe Bonamassa, “Different Shades of Blue” (J&R Adventures); Julian Casablancas + the Voidz, “Tyranny” (+180); Charm City Devils, “Battles” (The End); Gary Clark Jr., “Live” (Warner Bros.) ; Erasure, “The Violet Flame” (mute); Jackie Evancho, “Awakening” (Portrait); Marc Ford, “Holy Ghost” (Naim Edge); Goat, “Commune” (Sup Pop); Marketa Irglova, “Muna” (Anti-); Luke James, “Luke James” (Island); Sondre Lerche, “Please” (Mona); Lights, “Little Machines” (Warner Bros.); Imelda May, “Tribal” (Verve); Jimmy McIntosh, “Jimmy McIntosh and…” (Arizona Club); Moon Hooch, “This is Cave Music” (Hornblow/Palmetto); Jason Moran, “All Rise: A Joyful Elegy For Fats Waller” (CMG); Pentatonix, “PTX, Vol. III” EP (RCA); Chuck Prophet, “Night Surfer” (Yep Rock); Duke Robillard Band, “Calling All Blues” (Stony Plain); Sting, “Last Ship – Live at the Public Theater” (Cherry Tree); Stryper, “Live at the Whiskey” (Frontiers) ; Trapt, “The Acoustic Collection” (Crash Collide); Lee Ann Womack, “The Way I’m Livin’ “ (Sugar Hill); Young Rebel Set, “Crocodile” (New West)

From The Vaults: John Coltrane “Offering: Live at Temple University” (Resonance); Deep Purple, “Graz 1975 (Eagle Rock); George Harrison “The Apple Years 1968-75” (Apple/Ume); Jerry Lee Lewis, “The Knox Phillips Sessions: The Unreleased Recodings” (Saguaro Road); Gary Moore, “Live at Bush Hall 2007” (Eagle Rock); Smashing Pumpkins, “Adore” (Virgin/Ume)

New Music DVDs: Morrissey, “Introducing Morrissey” (Parlophone); Sting, “Last Ship – Live at the Public Theater” (Cherry Tree) Yes, “Songs From Tsongas: 35th Anniversary Concert (Eagle Rock)

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