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Queens Chronicle

Pop, R&B and country hits revisited

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Posted: Thursday, May 2, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 2:45 pm, Thu May 2, 2013.

Paul Anka “Duets” (Legacy)

Given the fact that his recording career spans over 55 years and that he has always enjoyed collaborating with other artists, it’s somewhat surprising that it has taken Paul Anka all this time to come up with his first album of performances with other artists. “Duets” consists of 14 tracks, most of which were recorded well in the past.

As can be expected from a hodgepodge collection, “Duets” is a mixed bag. Dolly Parton is not the kind of singer you would expect to be effortlessly paired with Anka, but their duet on an early-’70s tune penned by him, “Do I Love You? (Yes, in Every Way)” is exceptional. The same can be said for another odd coupling — Anka and Leon Russell on “I Really Miss You.”

I never realized how similar current nasal balladeer Michael Buble sounds to Anka until hearing them team up on the classic “Pennies From Heaven.” Part of the fun here is guessing who is singing, and my guess is that these guys were in on the joke as well.

The best track here is Anka’s duet with Peter Cetera, “Hold Me ’Til the Morning Comes,” which was recorded in 1983 and was Paul’s last record to crack the Billboard Top 40 singles chart. Their emotional lyrical pleas to try to save a relationship that apparently has had high peaks and low valleys deeply resonates. It should have been a bigger hit than it was.

There is nothing truly unlistenable here, but Anka’s duets with Tom Jones (“She’s a Lady”) and Frank Sinatra (“My Way”) are rather flat — which is unexpected, considering that Anka had a hand in composing both songs.

Anka has also been busy on the literary front, as his autobiography, “My Way” (St. Martin’s Press), has just been published. He gives lengthy accounts of his early years as an “American Bandstand” teen idol and, later in the book, observations on hanging with the Rat Pack in Las Vegas. He also details the travails that he had with Michael Jackson and his production team when he worked with him on “This Is It,” a track that appears on “Duets.” Based on the end result, it’s clear that it wasn’t worth the aggravation of dealing with the late mercurial King of Pop.

Anka has always been a good listen and now he is a good read as well.

Aaron Neville “My True Story” (Blue Note)

It has long been said that the great ones always make it look easy. That statement certainly applies to silk-voiced singer Aaron Neville, whose hits include “Tell It Like It Is,” “Don’t Know Much,” “All My Life” and “Don’t Take Away My Heaven.”

On “My True Story,” Aaron has decided to revisit his favorite late-’50s and early-’60s rhythm and blues hits, such as the Drifters’ “This Magic Moment,” “Under The Boardwalk,”“Money Honey” and “Ruby Baby,” Thurston Harris’ “Little Bitty Pretty One,” Jesse Belvin’s “Goodnight My Love” and the Impressions’ “Gypsy Woman,” a tune which he performed recently on “The Late Show With David Letterman.”

Practically every one of these songs has been recorded by numerous artists who generally did these old warhorses proud. Of course as the years go by, it is harder to hear them on any terrestrial radio station. (Hooray for Sirius XM and popgoldradio.com, an internet oldies station run by veteran air personality Don Tandler, where you can still listen to great tunes of yesteryear.) Neville has done a very good deed by reviving these songs in 2013.

Patsy Cline “On the Air” (Hip-O/UME)

This past March marked the 50th anniversary of the death of one of country music’s greatest singers, Patsy Cline. The milestone did not get as much media attention as it should have, but at least her old record company, Universal Music, took the trouble of dipping into its archives to compile tracks that she recorded live at both the Grand Ole Opry and on a Nashville music program, “The Greg Reeves Show.”

Cline classics such as “Crazy,” “She’s Got You,” “Walkin’ After Midnight,” and “I Fall to Pieces” lack the polish of their familiar hit versions but prove that her strong vocals were not the result of some recording studio wizardry.

It is eerie to listen to her take on Bob Wills’ “San Antonio Rose,” recorded just five days before she took that ill-fated plane trip.

“On the Air” is an invaluable historical document.

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