Tony Bennett

The Best Singer in the Business

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Tony Bennett has long prevented the reissue of a number of his '50s hits that he considers embarrassing or unrepresentative of the serious image he wants to project. As these recordings hit the 50-year mark and enter the public domain in Europe, they're finally being released on compact disc, whether he likes it or not. The Best Singer in the Business is a cheaply packaged three-disc, 42-song set manufactured in Portugal that has no liner notes or annotation but contains a few of the rare recordings sought by Bennett's fans and collectors of chart hits. These include "Cinnamon Sinner," a Top Ten hit from 1954, and a Top Ten version of Hank Williams' "There'll Be No Teardrops Tonight" with a big-band boogie beat. One of the non-hits Bennett probably would have liked to keep out of circulation is "My Pretty Shoo-Gah," his contribution to the calypso craze. Although it employs clich├ęd "calypso grammar," Bennett doesn't use a fake accent, and the accompanying vocal group is quite nice. Many of the better-known recordings, such as "Cold, Cold Heart," "Rags to Riches" and "Stranger in Paradise," are probably copied off of authorized CDs and appear in high fidelity, but the tracks making their CD debut are mastered from vinyl sources. The latter cuts sound good with some exceptions -- the 1953 hit "Why Does It Have to Be Me" has noticeable surface noise, and the dull, muffled sound indicates an overzealous application of noise reduction. Whether it is worthwhile to invest in an import box set for a handful of songs is a personal judgment, but interested collectors should factor into their decision the inevitability that some European label will assemble a more focused anthology of Bennett's rare hits in the foreseeable future.

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