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Tony Bennett

 Two by Tony: pop mastery for the rock generation

MTV Unplugged
 Columbia CD 66214-2, 1994 (63:12)

Here's to the Ladies
 Columbia CD 67345-2

Musical tastes in the '90s have gotten broader than ever before. Nowhere is this more aptly demonstrated than with the success of Tony Bennett's  MTV Unplugged. For REM, Smashing Pumpkins and Metallica fans, Tony is a soothing, inspiring and genuine alternative. He is perfectly suited to introducing new audiences to the best of the standards. Indeed one of his greatest gifts is his skillful choice of material. On both of these albums he has done a masterful job of song selection and ordering. Together they serve as a superb introduction to a rich and varied body of American song. While a singer like Van Morrison draws attention to his vocal skills and the richness of his voice, Tony Bennett expertly makes the song itself the focal point. He is the best friend a Howard Arlen or Cole Porter song can have.

With Tony Bennett, one gets exquisite phrasing, passion and pizazz. He brings the lyrics to life and finds the poetry in his songs. Many of us who grew up on rock have rejected standards simply because we have never heard them presented properly. Tony does not transcend his material, rather he lets the material transcend the setting, letting us get at what's really special about this music.

Both of these albums are a joy to listen to. It is hard to choose between them though  MTV probably serves as a better introduction. Among the best cuts are "Old Devil Moon," "The Girl I Love" and "They Can't Take That Away From Me," performed as a duet with Elvis Costello. This album is a bit more exciting and justifies the live setting with the overall feeling of spontaneity it projects.

In  Here's To the Ladies, Tony pays tribute to singers from Sarah Vaughn and Ella Fitzgerald all the way to Liza Minnelli and Barbra Streisand. He selects a tune associated with each woman and, once again, makes the song itself the focal point. "People" is a great example of his talents. I could never stand Streisand singing this tune but I can't get Tony's version out of my head. He brings out the meaning in it in a way Barbra never has for me. Other outstanding cuts include "Moonlight in Vermont" and "God Bless the Child."

Any of these songs has the potential to come across as vapid and sentimental in the wrong hands. In Tony's hands the lyrics are meaningful and the complexity of the tunes enhances their musicality. In hearing standards performed so well I have come to a much better understanding of their appeal to the performer as much as to the listener. For me, Tony Bennett has been a slowly acquired pleasure, unlike Sinatra or Mel Torme both of whom I have enjoyed for a long time. In fact the  MTV Unplugged album is the first time he has appealed to me as much as those others. Now I'm hooked and play these records often. They make me a feel like an adult for a change -- a really cool adult. Add soft lighting, a dry martini and an attractive companion for the kind of peak experience rock just can't provide. --  Jim Warshauer

production notes & song titles

 MTV Unplugged

Tony Bennett, vocals; Ralph Sharon, piano; Douglas Richeson, bass; Clayton Cameron, drums.

Produced by David Kahne, recorded by Mitch Maketansky and John Harris.

Old Devil Moon | Speak Low | It Had To Be You | I Love A Piano | It Amazes Me | The Girl I Love | Fly Me To The Moon | You're All The World To Me | Rags To Riches | When Joanna Loved Me | The Good Life/I Wanna Be Around (medley) | I Left My Heart In San Francisco | Steppin' Out With My Baby | Moonglow | They Can't Take That Away From Me | A Foggy Day | All Of You | Body And Soul | It Don't Mean A Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing | Autumn Leaves/Indian Summer (medley)

 Here's to the Ladies

Tony Bennett, vocals; Ralph Sharon, piano; Douglas Richeson, bass; Clayton Cameron, drums. Orchestral charts written and conducted by Jorge Caladrelli, big band charts written and conducted by Bill Holman, trumpet solos by Lou Soloff.

Produced by David Kahne.

People (Barbra Streisand) | I'm In Love Again (Peggy Lee) | Somewhere Over the Rainbow (Judy Garland) | My Love Went to London (Blossom Dearie) | Poor Butterfly (Sarah Vaughn) | Sentimental Journey (Doris Day) | Cloudy Morning (Carmen McRae) | Tenderly (Rosemary Clooney) | Down In the Depths (Mabel Mercer) | Moonlight in Vermont (Margaret Whiting) | Tangerine (Helen O'Connell) | God Bless the Child (Billie Holiday) | Daybreak (Dinah Washington) | You Showed Me the Way (Ella Fitzgerald) | Honeysuckle Rose (Lena Horne) | Maybe This Time (Liza Minnelli) | I Got Rhythm (Ethel Merman) | My Ideal (Margaret Whiting)

Copyright © 1996 Peppercorn Press. All rights reserved.