Chemistry is the heart of any duet. Without it, even classic songs struggle to come to life. That's why it's good to have a partner like Tony Bennett.
At 86, the seasoned singer has learned to accommodate almost any mood or moment. His previous "Duets" albums found him crooning successfully alongside Tim McGraw, Bono, Lady Gaga, Amy Winehouse and Willie Nelson. (Last year's "Duets II" was his first No. 1 album and made him the oldest living artist to top the Billboard 200.)
"Viva Duets" finds Bennett revisiting familiar tunes with a bilingual twist. He's teamed with an A-list roster of Latin stars, and some of the results are sublime.
There's something truly spectacular about Bennett's pairing with regional Mexican icon Vicente Fernandez, Both men are in fine form on "Return to Me/Regresa a Mi," backed by gently strumming guitars. Fernandez, who sounds on the verge of tears, announced his retirement earlier this year, which gives the song added poignancy.
Pop diva Thalia exudes warmth and delicacy on "The Way You Look Tonight;" and Christina Aguilera is a zippy foil on "Steppin' Out With My Baby," sung in English.
Gloria Estefan brings a regal confidence to "Who Can I Turn To (When Nobody Needs Me)" and proves that she is continually underrated as a vocalist and interpreter. Her connection with Bennett is elegant and effortless, and they play off each other like old friends.
Bachata heartthrob Romeo Santos makes sense here commercially, but he's a strange artistic addition. His high, wispy voice could easily pass for female, and his youthful experience is no match for Bennett's wizened charm. He's like an apprentice still cowering under his mentor.
Better are the more experienced voices of Chayanne on "The Best Is Yet to Come;" actor/singer Dani Martin on "Are You Havin' Any Fun?" and former Los Fabulosos Cadillacs singer Vicentico on "Cold, Cold Heart," which soars on a lovely, lilting arrangement.
A few singers are simply the wrong fit for pop standards, including Dominican icon Juan Luis Guerra and, surprisingly, Marc Anthony, who proves a bit too snoozy during "For Once in My Life." Mostly, though, Bennett proves a little quimica goes a long way in any language.
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