One of the best concerts I saw in my four-year stay in New York City (1998-2002) was Tony Bennett and k.d. lang at Radio City Music Hall. As certain as you can be of a rainstorm on your day off, they were Excellence Personified - k.d. opened the show for headliner Tony, and they’d duet here ‘n’ there. Somebody had the brains to capture this unlikely yet magical duo for the ages - hence, A Wonderful World
At first glance, it might seem an unlikely match-up: the King of the Great American Songbook, the only real successor to Sinatra’s vacated Chairmanship, and a somewhat androgynous counter-culture vocalist/actress who began her career in country music and coincidentally became a lesbian icon. But generational differences aside, they are BOTH great singers who have in common (aside from tremendous technique) a love for that aforementioned Songbook, those standards by Porter, Gershwin, Berlin, etc. Tony’s sly hipster baritone and k.d.’s sensuous, slightly smoky alto (recalling a bit Helen Merrill and Kay Starr, w/ a wee touch of Tammy Wynette country soul) are an impressive blend and trade off verses like they were born to sing duet. And neither over-sings, hams it up or ANYthing like that, and the only time they get "cute" is at the end of "Exactly Like You." Ace roots-rocker/songwriter T. Bone Burnett (who’s also worked w/ Elvis Costello and Bob Dylan) may seem an unlikely producer for this session, but I doubt Norman Granz could’ve done a better job - the accompaniment by Bennett’s regular group is sublimely augmented by the gorgeous tenor saxophone of Scott Hamilton (rich with the echoes of Zoot Sims and Ben Webster) and the judiciously lush/lushly judicious orchestration of Peter Matz, and the gimmick-free production gives each voice plenty of room to wrap themselves around the songs and each other. Needless to say, my rating stands at: three thumbs way up.