Tony Bennett is a national treasure whose brilliant talents have been on display since he first started recording in the ’50s after being discovered by Bob Hope. He has an amazing voice and is a genius at interpreting and phrasing lyrics. Sinatra considered him “the best singer in the business.”
This CD collects the albums Tony Bennett Sings 10 Rodgers and Hart Songs and Tony Bennett Sings…More Great Rodgers and Hart, which were first released in 1976 and 1977. Closing out the disc are six alternate tracks from the boxed set The Complete Improv Recordings, which was released in 2004.
Bennett recorded these tracks over two days in July 1973 with The Ruby Braff/George Barnes Quartet, a unique-sounding combo comprised of two guitars, a bass and a cornet. At the time, Bennett had mainly been working with big bands that he had to shout over to be heard. These songs are small, intimate performances that allow everyone to be heard and their talents to shine.
Braff’s muted trumpet provides such a strong yet sweet counterpoint to Bennett that instead of solely accompanying the vocals, he creates wonderful duets on some songs, for example “This Can’t Be Love”. Barnes plays lead guitar with a great melodic quality that is always evident. Throughout the album, he and Braff seamlessly exchange leads, “Isn’t It Romantic?”, and solos, “Manhattan.” Guitarist Wayne Wright and bassist John Giuffrida make up the solid rhythm section that allows everyone to soar.
Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart wrote musicals for the Broadway stage from 1919 until 1943, but their songs are strong enough to stand on their own. Some of the classic songs might not be recognized at first because Bennett sings verses that aren’t usually performed by other artists, such as “Blue Moon” and “The Lady is a Tramp” to name a couple.”
The lyrics are touching, witty and at times capture that sometimes love isn’t so grand. In “Lover”, a longing is reflected, “When you are away it’s awful”, followed up by, “When you are with me it’s worse”. In “You Took Advantage of Me,” those feelings are echoed with, “I suffer something awful each time you go/And much worse when you’re near.” These songs are a reminder to be careful for what you wish for.
This cynical view is on display in the opening track, “This Can’t Be Love”. The lover who has had his heart broken a few times states, “This can’t be love, because I feel so well,/No sobs, no sorrows, no sighs.” It’s refreshing to have both sides of love presented.
The alternate take that has the sharpest contrast is “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World.” The released version is a slow waltz that Bennett gives a tender performance, ranging from a soft whisper to a shout, creating the impression that the man is longing for the woman. The alternate version picks up the pace with Bennett singing at the same volume throughout. He sounds happy and content as if he has the woman.
Bennett’s Sings the Rodgers and Hart Songbook is an outstanding showcase for the talents of everyone involved: the songs of Rodgers and Hart, the musicianship of The Ruby Braff/George Barnes Quartet, and the singing of Tony Bennett.
In the liner notes, Bennett’s drummer at the time, Joe Cocuzzo, while initially disappointed in not being involved, admits that this collection of songs is a classic; thereby, dispelling the jokes about the intelligence of drummers. I wholeheartedly agree, dispelling the jokes about my intelligence.