Despite their differences — he’s an 88-year-old jazz-vocals titan, she’s the outlandish pop star with a penchant to provoke — there is nothing odd about the coupling of Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga. No matter how much you might think Gaga isn’t worthy of Bennett, “Cheek to Cheek” is the album they were meant to make.
Gaga is, at heart, an old-fashioned entertainer much like Bennett, and she’s also Stefani Germanotta, an Italian girl who grew in New York in a home where Bennett’s music was played. She clearly relishes her time with the jazz legend on this tour through the Great American Songbook, their first album together after recording the song “The Lady Is a Tramp” for his 2011 release, “Duets II.”
Unlike that “Duets” series, where Bennett was the star surrounded by guests, “Cheek to Cheek” is a vehicle for both its featured artists, in duets and on their own. Gaga is especially devastating on “Lush Life,” digging in with a gusto that’s rarely apparent on her own recordings.
Their respective styles are occasionally at odds, but to amusing effect. On “Goody Goody,” it’s cute to hear her ham it up with ad-libs while Bennett sticks to the script. (“I told you I’m no goody: I’m a baddy,” she quips, but he doesn’t flinch.)
This is the album for people who want to like Gaga, if only she would cut the crap and just sing. And that’s what she does here, rather beautifully and with a force that’s less Broadway showstopper and more liberated torch singer. She and Bennett bring out the best in each other. (Out
ESSENTIAL “Cheek to Cheek”