Thursday, April 24, 2008

CD Review: Playin' With My Friends

1) Alright, Okay, You Win
2) Everyday
3) Don't Cry Baby
4) Good Morning, Heartache
5) Let the Good Times Roll
6) Evenin'
7) I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues
8) Keep the Faith, Baby
9) Old Count Basie Is Gone
10) Blue and Sentimental
11) New York State of Mind
12) Undecided Blues
13) Blues in the Night
14) Stormy Weather
15) Playin' With My Friends
After all these years, Tony Bennett is still the best singer in the business. On 2001's Playin' With My Friends, he croons 15 songs of the best genre there is: the blues. As if things couldn't get any better, he shares the microphone with big names like Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, and the late Ray Charles. Whoa!
These 15 tracks are simultaneously cool, moody, and soulful. Tony's tight backing band, the Ralph Sharon Quartet, gives each song a laid-back feel. Bennett's vocals can seem just as effortless, like on most of "Blues in the Night", but at the end of that song, he busts out a high note that will shake any speaker.
Among the collaborators are blues royalty like Ray, B.B. King, and Bonnie Raitt, who blend beautifully with Tony. "Let the Good Times Roll" approaches rock territory, thanks to B.B. King's gravely voice and clean guitar. "Evenin'" is a slow, jazzy duet between two unmistakable voices - Tony and Ray - and it's a standout. Bonnie lends some fine guitar and vocals to the swinging "I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues".
Then there are the more surprising appearances - Stevie, Billy, and Sheryl Crow - that make for equally great tracks. Crow's smooth voice is perfect for the smoky ballad "Good Morning, Heartache". Stevie's distinct voice and harmonica are equally apropos for "Everyday". Tony and his crew bring out the bluesy side of Billy's "New York State of Mind", with Billy providing a vocal with shades of both Tony and Ray.
Tony is best known for his work with the Great American Songbook, but he shines in this interpretation of a very different kind of music. His dynamic voice can whisper one verse, shout the next, croon until the coda and belt out a powerful finish. All hail the king of understated cool.
****3/4 out of five

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