Tony Bennett – Playin’ With My Friends – Bennett Sings The Blues (2001)

FrontCover1.jpgPlayin’ with My Friends: Bennett Sings the Blues is a 2001 album by Tony Bennett featuring duets with notable vocalists.

Tony Bennett’s latter-day albums tend to have themes, and this one has two, as indicated by its double-barreled title: It is both a duets album and a blues album. The duet partners include ten singers who range from his recent touring partners Diana Krall and k.d. lang to fellow veterans Ray Charles, B.B. King, and Kay Starr, and younger, but still mature pop stars Stevie Wonder, Bonnie Raitt, and Billy Joel. All sound happy to be sharing a mic with Bennett. Not surprisingly, the singer’s conception of the blues does not extend to the Mississippi Delta or the South Side of Chicago; rather, he is interested in the blues as filtered through the sound of the Swing Era, particularly from around Kansas City, and as interpreted by Tin Pan Alley and show tunes. For the former, his true mentor is Count Basie, whose overt influence is heard on six of the 15 tracks.

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Bennett makes no attempt to hide this, leading off the album with two songs, “Alright, Okay, You Win” (a duet with Krall) and “Everyday (I Have the Blues)” (a duet with Wonder), closely associated with Basie singer Joe Williams. The Broadway and Hollywood blues style is introduced in three selections written by Harold Arlen. On about half the tracks, the Ralph Sharon Quartet is augmented by Harry Allen’s saxophone and Mike Melvoin’s Hammond organ, but this remains a small, intimate affair that emphasizes the singers. There are missteps — Sheryl Crow’s Billie Holiday impersonation on “Good Morning, Heartache” is unfortunate, and Natalie Cole, as usual, sounds out of her depth on “Stormy Weather.” But the trade-offs Bennett enjoys with King and Charles are priceless, and the Joel duet is surprisingly effective. On the whole, this is yet another entry in Bennett’s lengthening series of autumnal recorded triumphs. (by William Ruhlmann)

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Personnel:
Harry Allen (saxophone)
Tony Bennett (vocals)
Clayton Cameron (drums)
Paul Langosch (bass)
Mike Melvoin (organ)
Gray Sargent (guitar)
Ralph Sharon (piano)
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Ray Charles – Natalie Cole – Sheryl Crow – Billy Joel – B.B. King – Diana Krall – K.D.Lang -Bonnie Raitt – Kay Starr – Stevie Wonder – Judy Garland

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Tracklist:
01. Alright, Okay, You Win (with Diana Krall) (Watts/Wyche) 3.31
02. Everyday (I Have the Blues) (with Stevie Wonder) (Chatman) 3.39
03. Don’t Cry Baby (Bernie/Johnson/Unger) 2.43
04. Good Morning Heartache (with Sheryl Crow) (Drake/Fisher/Higginbotham) 4.56
05. Let The Good Times Roll (with B.B. King) (Moore/Theard) 3.14
06. Evenin’ (with Ray Charles) (Parish/White) 4.15
07. I Gotta Right To Sing The Blues (with Bonnie Raitt) (Arlen/Koehler) 3.55
08. Keep The Faith, Baby (with K.D. Lang) (de Jesus/Lerner/Watts) 3.52
09. Old Count Basie Is Gone (Old Piney Brown Is Gone) (Turner) 3.25
10. Blue And Sentimental (with Kay Starr) (Basie/David/Livingston) 3.21
11. New York State Of Mind (with Billy Joel) (Joel) 4.31
12. Undecided Blues (Rushing) 3.18
13. Blues In The Night (Arlen/Mercer) 3.34
14. Stormy Weather (with Natalie Cole) (Arlen/Koehler) 4.34
15. Playin’ With My Friends (Cray/Walker) 4.50
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16. I Left My Heart In San Francisco (with Judy Garland) (Cory/Cross) 3.08

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Various Artists – A Motown Christmas (1973)

FrontCover1A Motown Christmas is a Christmas music compilation album, originally released as a 2-LP set by Motown Records in 1973. It contains various seasonal singles and album tracks recorded by some of the label’s artists from the 1960s and early 1970s. Much of the music had previously been collected on the 1968 UK compilation Merry Christmas from Motown.

The music has several times been recycled into different packagings. (by wikipedia)

“I really did see mommy kissing Santa Claus/And I’m gonna tell my dad!,” a too-cute 1970 Michael Jackson tells his doubting brothers in what might be Xmas-pop’s most adorable moment. The rest of this 1973 double album is pretty fantastic too. Motown culls tunes from the Miracles, Supremes, Jacksons, Temptations, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder, with highlights ranging from the Miracles’ subtly grooving “Jingle Bells” to Wonder’s lovely “What Christmas Means to Me” to the Supremes’ awesomely pedagogic “Children’s Christmas Song,” featuring Diana Ross in Sunday school-teacher mode leading a kids choir. (by rollingstone.com)

MotownChristmasEvery holiday season, I marvel that every record collector – hell, every person – on the face of the planet doesn’t own A Motown Christmas.  A Motown Christmas is simply magnificent, but it tends to gather dust in record store bins. Perhaps this is because oldies radio stations play the same handful of Motown songs over and over and over, obscuring the fact that the label was an incredibly inventive and prolific hit factory for more than a decade. Containing nearly all the best Christmas tracks from Motown’s vaults, A Motown Christmas qualifies as a consumer’s delight, and it is far superior to the rest of Motown’s many other various artist Christmas packages, which tend to be brief and random in their selection (more below). I recommend it without reservation.

The important thing to remember about Motown’s Christmas songs is that they were more Motown than Christmas, translating the big beat and pop savvy of Hitsville USA into yuletide cheer. To name just a few of the highlights: the Temptations’ lush “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer;” the Jackson Five’s frenetic “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town;” and Stevie Wonder’s earnest “Someday At Christmas.”  In addition, two tracks are otherwise hard-to-find: Michael Jackson’s “Little Christmas Tree” (recorded specifically for the original 1973 LP), and Marvin Gaye’s gently pacifist “I Want To Come Home For Christmas” (recorded but not released in 1972, then added to the CD reissue). Even at their most maudlin – the Supremes tracks, for instance – these songs are hipper than almost anything else released for the holidays throughout the 60’s and early 70’s. (by hipchristmas.com)

BackCoverTracklist:
01. The Jackson 5: Santa Claus Is Coming to Town (Coots/Gillespie) 2.26
02. Stevie Wonder: What Christmas Means To Me (Gaye/Gordy/Story) 2.28
03. The Temptations: Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer (Marks) 2.59
04. Diana Ross & the Supremes: My Favorite Things (Hammerstein/Rodgers) 2.51
05. Smokey Robinson & the Miracles: Deck The Halls/Bring A Torch, Jeannette, Isabell (Traditional) 4.07
06. The Jackson 5: I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus (Connors) 3.02
07. Stevie Wonder: Ave Maria (Schubert) 3.55
08. The Temptations: Silent Night (Gruber/Mohr) 2.25
09. Michael Jackson: Little Christmas Tree (Clinton/Wayne) 3.39
10. Smokey Robinson & the Miracles: God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (Traditional) 3.10  11. The Jackson 5: The Christmas Song (Tormé/Wells) 2.54
12. Diana Ross & the Supremes: Joy To The World (Mason/WattsI 2.11
13. The Temptations: The Little Drummer Boy (Davis/Onorati/Simeone) 3.25
14. Diana Ross & the Supremes: Silver Bells (Evans/Livingston) 3.02
15. Stevie Wonder: Someday At Christmas (Miller/Wells) 2.52
16. The Jackson 5: Frosty The Snowman (Nelson/Rollins) 2:41
17. Smokey Robinson & the Miracles: Jingle Bells (Pierpont) 2.48
18. The Temptations: My Christmas Tree (Webb) 3.20
19. Diana Ross & the Supremes: White Christmas (Berlin) 3.56
20. Stevie Wonder: One Little Christmas Tree (Miller/Wells) 2.45
21. The Jackson 5: Give Love On Christmas Day (Gordy, Jr./Mizell/Perren/Richards) 3.00
22. Smokey Robinson & the Miracles: It’s Christmas Time (Wonder) 3.29
23. Diana Ross & the Supremes: The Children’s Christmas Song (Freeman/Fuqua) 2.53
24. The Jackson 5: Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas (Blane/Martin) 5.16

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