The most adorable musical friendship in the land delivers solid gold supreme (again), as Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett release what will be 95-year-old Bennett’s last official studio recording, Love For Sale – a romp through the songbook of seminal musician Cole Porter.
The pair’s previous #1 collab album Cheek to Cheek (2014) featured Porter classic Anything Goes alongside other jazz standards by George Gershwin, Irving Berlin (the title track) and Duke Ellington, and not long after it ripped up the charts, the two began discussing recording songs from Porter’s ouevre.
The ‘Cole Porter Songbook’ is simply a collection of standards written by American icon Porter (1891 – 1964), whose swing and jazz compositions made their way from hit-dom to classic-dom thanks to witty lyrics and savvy melodies. Sometimes accused by his contemporaries of being too camp and vulgar (we’re in the ’30s and ’40s, remember), Porter’s earworms took Broadway and the West End by storm regardless, and have been recorded by myriad luminaries such as Ella Fitzgerald (who released two collections of Porter hits), Dionne Warwick, Frank Sinatra, David Byrne, Annie Lennox, and a shedload more.
So, how do Gaga and Bennett’s iterations fare?
Opener It’s De-Lovely is totally de-licious, the vocalists jousting and meandering around one another with spontaneously supple rhythms, alongside sashaying strings and jaunty vibraphone. The title track is a dapper Big Band caper; Bennett’s first delivery of the chorus saunters over a walking double bass until the shuffle kit arrives, with sax flourishes ducking Gaga’s rich timbre and Bennett’s carefree drawl. (Check out the insanely agile sax solo, which vibrates with hysterical flickerings in its craziest moments).
Do I Love You sees Gaga solo and soaring, with plenty of room for sass: “Don’t ya know I do?” she teases, exaggerating the vowels to sound for all the world like Bennett’s other modern-woman-in-arms, the late Amy Winehouse (with whom he won a Grammy for Best Pop Duo for track Body And Soul, from his 2011 album Duets II).
Speaking of Gaga evoking icons, the spectre of Judy Garland is all over her diction; the opening section of Let’s Do it – another of Gaga’s solo tracks on the record – recalls Over The Rainbow in the way she relishes her plosives and rounded vowels.
Meanwhile, the backing band have been faultlessly selected. Stand-out I’ve Got You Under My Skin showcases some exquisite dynamism between piano, kit and the muted trumpets of the horn section, which punch through the vocalists’ adorable asides (“I’ve got you… yes I do! Under my skin…”). Elsewhere, I Concentrate On You boasts a sophisticated lounge feel, with the drummer’s light-handed rimshots giving a samba flavour, along with fluttering piccolo.
It’s a superb final entry into Bennett’s catalogue, and we can only hope that despite his retiring from the spotlight, records like this one (along with his effortlessly enduring cool) will continue to inspire younger musicians to explore the fascinating world of jazz and swing.
Love For Sale by Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga is out October 1, including on JB-exclusive vinyl with two bonus tracks, via Universal.
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