Tony Bennett & Dave Brubeck 'The White House Sessions, Live 1962' (RCA)
4 stars = Outstanding
During their decades with Columbia Records, Tony Bennett and the late pianist Dave Brubeck never did a joint album. The closest they came was this Aug. 28, 1962 outdoor concert in the shadow of the Washington Monument. Only one song was released decades ago, the tape lay misfiled in Sony's Music library until discovered late last year.
Brubeck and his "classic" quartet, alto saxophonist Paul Desmond, bassist Eugene Wright and drummer Joe Morello, deliver energetic versions of his hit 1959 signature song, Desmond's composition "Take Five," and the internationally-flavored "Nomad," "Thank You (Djiekuje)" and "Castilian Blues."
Backed by his own trio, Mr. Bennett was captured at the moment his future signature song "I Left My Heart In San Francisco" was flying up the charts. His brief set reflects the looser, jazzier style he uses on stage today. Two of his earlier hits, "Just In Time" and "Rags to Riches" swing more than the singles ever did.
Brubeck, who recorded a memorable 1960 album with vocalist Jimmy Rushing, demonstrates the instincts of both virtuoso and master accompanist. He flawlessly meshes with Mr. Bennett in a set that captures both in their absolute prime.
-- Rich Kienzle, for the Post-Gazette
Tom Jones 'Spirit in the Room' (Rounder)
3 stars = Good
Over the past decade, Sir Tom Jones, who turns 73 in June, has integrated his mainstream fame with a desire to create earthy, at times deeply personal music drawing from his blues, folk and R&B roots. His previous album, 2010's "Praise & Blame," mixed traditional tunes with songs by Bob Dylan, John Lee Hooker and Billy Joe Shaver.
Issued a year after its British release, "Spirit" continues what Mr. Jones began on the previous album, working with "Spirit" producer Ethan Johns. While he used a slew of sidemen previously, this time Mr. Jones handles most accompaniment himself, joined by only a couple musicians.
Mr. Jones, who also wrote two originals, tackles Odetta's "Hit Or Miss," Tom Waits' "Bad As Me," The Low Anthem's "Charlie Darwin," a spellbinding version of Leonard Cohen's "Tower Of Song" and Blind Willie Johnson's "Soul Of A Man." Two performances are especially strong. One is the buoyant, New Orleans-style treatment of Paul Simon's "Love and Blessings," the other a raw, Latin-flavored rendering of the 1968 psych-rocker "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)."
Some equated "Praise & Blame" with Johnny Cash's final recordings with Rick Rubin, but I think that's a superficial comparison. Cash, strength ebbing and aware the end was near, summarized his life and career by recording old and new tunes that fit his diverse musical oeuvre. Mr. Jones, his stamina clearly intact, explores his deep, personal love for the roots music that inspired him, even during his own days as a pop hitmaker.
-- Rich Kienzlemusic