With the success of Tony Bennett’s second duets collection and his evergreen presence in American popular music, it is no surprise that Concord Records should mine Bennett’s back catalogue and repackage some of his trademark love ballads with the release of Isn’t It Romantic?. How romantic listeners will find the collection will depend less on their affection for his warm, earnest delivery than on the instrumental jazz support behind him.
The 15 selections are not drawn from Bennett’s full career, but rather from releases of the 1970s on Fantasy Records and Bennett’s own Improv label. In particular, nine songs are from two albums with pianist Bill Evans: The Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Album (1975) and Together Again (1976). Both collections were true collaborations, which means the songs re-mastered for this package are equally Evans keyboard solos as much as Bennett’s vocal stylings. Mixed throughout these numbers are tracks with Bennett supported by the larger ensembles of the Ruby Braff/George Barnes Quartet and the Torrie Zito Trio.
So what unifies this set is the fact the songs all represent the great American songbook with compositions by the likes of Rodgers and Hart, Cole Porter, Leonard Bernstein, and Henry Mancini. The titles are all familiar territory: “Make Someone Happy,“ ”Isn’t It Romantic?,” “As Time Goes By,” “Days of Wine and Roses,” “Lucky To Be Me,” “Life Is Beautiful,” etc. So this collection doesn’t include new material, feature any rarities, and isn’t especially representative of Bennett’s work in any meaningful way.
The question is then: Does this offering by Tony Bennett put you and yours in the mood, as the title suggests? Well, bring your own wine and roses and it might do the trick. However, my lady recommends coffee and chocolate. She likes Bennett, but this one made her drowsy. “Too little Bennett,” she yawned, “Too much piano bar.”