23 September saw the US release of Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga’s joint album Cheek to Cheek, neatly alluded to in the newspaper mock-up cover of the standard version of the CD…(you can just about see it in the picture above.) Records are still released on Tuesdays in the US, so we were able to buy it a day earlier in the UK, which was blessed succour after the psychic and spiritual kickings meted out before and after the Scottish Independence referendum.
Gaga had been dropping many photos of her with Tony Bennett, apparently in recording studios, on to Facebook for weeks ahead of the announcement of the joint album, so it was clear something was afoot; she had also guested on Bennett’s second Duets album in 2011; and Bennett had been in print airing his extremely high opinions of Gaga’s work.
So the release of a whole album of duets (well nearly, each singer has a couple of solo turns) was not entirely a surprise; what may have been a surprise to some is the almost complete success of the venture.
Backed by the Tony Bennett Quartet throughout (with additional strings and brass on many tracks,) Bennett and Gaga jointly and severally assay eighteen gems from what is now clichedly known as The Great American Songbook. So far, so yawn, everybody’s been at it…however, the singers are clearly energising each other so much that the album far transcends the tired genre exercise it could have been, and as so many are…loosen that tie, stand in front of that vintage mike. Allow Us to be Be Frank asked Boyzone; We Are Going to be Brutally Frank would have been nearer the mark.
Anyway, back to Tone and Steph…neither of these wonderful artists is in need of a career revival or fillip, so this album is truly a meeting of minds on a common ground. Mr Bennett is sensational and giving it “the big one” throughout, but especially on “I Won’t Dance,” where he sounds to me to be paying tribute to Sinatra’s definitive reading while Gaga grounds the track by following the melody more closely; and on the eternally silly “Goody Goody,” where he’s having a ball against Gaga’s “Noo Yoik gal” spoken comments. There’s a lot of love going on there.
Gaga shines brightest on the albums beautiful Ellingtonian centrepiece, a pairing of her singing “Lush Life” alone, followed by Bennett’s solo of “Sophisticated Lady.” She’s also set to stun on the live recording of “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” near the end of the album.
A breath of air. Nobody trying to prove anything, just two musicians having a ball. Cheek to cheek.