Picks and Pans Review: Forty Years: the Artistry of Tony Bennett

updated 08/26/1991 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/26/1991 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Tony Bennett

Like his contemporary Rosemary Clooney or a younger generation's Bonnie Raitt, Bennett has gotten better with age—and he wasn't all that shabby when he started out either.

This four-album retrospective has 87 tracks, from "The Boulevard of Broken Dreams," cut in 1950, to "When Do the Bells Ring for Me," from 1989. While it includes a total of 80,000 or so too many violins—string sections and Bennett suggest a gummy sauce on a good steak—it is a marvelous mixture of the familiar and surprising, produced by Didier C. Deutsch.

The early tunes, from Bennett's Mitch Miller—produced period, include such schmaltz as "Rags to Riches" and "Blue Velvet." But he has always been able to find new takes on even overexposed songs—"Fly Me to the Moon (In Other Words)," say, or "For Once in My Life."

At the same time, he routinely uncovers rarely heard treasures. Some are by name composers (the James Van Heusen—Sammy Cahn tune "I'll Only Miss Her When I Think of Her" or the Richard Rodgers—Martin Charnin song "I Do Not Know a Day I Did Not Love You"). Others are by such lesser known names as Bob Dorough ("I've Got Just About Everything").

Whatever his songs' origins, Bennett treats them with the greatest of care and delicacy—what a joy it is to hear a pop singer who really thinks about the lyrics he sings. Whether his backing is the great Basie band of the '50s or the trio of his splendid longtime accompanist, Ralph Sharon (or even the accursed violins), he is an artist for whom the magnificent is all but routine. (Columbia/Legacy)

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