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Posted: Thursday, August 21, 2003 12:00 am

Tony Bennett

“Artist’s Choice” (Hear Music)

Hear Music, a San Francisco-based record company, came up with an interesting concept. They asked a number of musical artists to list their favorite recordings which have influenced what they do and then released those songs on an album. You’ve probably seen these CDs on a Starbucks counter. Among the performers who have partaken in this series are Ray Charles, Yo-Yo Ma, Sheryl Crow, the Rolling Stones, and Astoria’s own, Tony Bennett.

Bennett makes no secret that he always admired the two biggest-selling female vocalists who were his labelmates at Columbia Records when he first signed with that company, Doris Day and Rosemary Clooney. Doris Day’s “Sentimental Journey” was arguably her best recording but I’m surprised that Bennett selected “Tenderly” instead of the more demanding “Hey There” from the late Rosemary Clooney.

Jazz has always been a passion of Bennett’s and he treats us to some of the most famous recordings in the genre’s history as we get to savor Count Basie’s “April In Paris,” Duke Ellington’s New York classic, “Take The ‘A’ Train,” and Louis Armstrong’s “Mack The Knife,” which is more faithful to composer Kurt Weill’s vision of the song than Bobby Darin’s 1959 big band, finger-snapping rendition which of course is a staple on the WCBS-FM playlist. Speaking of Kurt Weill, Bennett also chose another one of his memorable tunes, the wistful “September Song” which was first recorded by Walter Huston in 1938, and it’s worth listening to, hisses and all.

There was no way that Bennett was going to release an album of his favorite music without including something from his idol, Frank Sinatra. Obviously choosing just one song from the Sinatra catalog could not have been an easy decision but “One For My Baby (And One For The Road),” a song about finding yourself in a saloon in the wee hours thinking about lost love, was one of “Old Blue Eyes’” best.

As we’ve come to expect, Tony Bennett is a man of impeccable taste.

Burt Bacharach

“Classics” (A&M)

Forest Hills High School alum Burt Bacharach is almost as well-known for being the personification of debonair as he is for writing some of the most memorable popular music of the last century.

Just about anyone who is anyone in showbiz has recorded a Bacharach melody and there have been several terrific compilations of hit versions of these songs with Varese Sarabande’s two-disc “Burt Bacharach Songbook” and Rhino Records’ elaborate “Look Of Love” box set being among the best. A&M’s just-released “Classics” is a compendium of Bacharach performing his own work be it through conducting an orchestra, guiding a chorus, or even attempting to sing his old partner, Hal David’s, lyrics.

The weakest part of Bacharach’s game is clearly his singing, and to his credit, he has poked fun at his warbling over the years. It is not that he has a bad voice, it is that he chooses the most difficult of his songs to sing here, such as “A House Is Not A Home” and “Make It Easy On Yourself.” Bacharach is game but he should leave these tunes to pros such as Dionne Warwick, Jerry Butler and Luther Vandross.

Arranging orchestration is clearly Bacharach’s forte on this disc. Instead of the pronounced horn section which we are familiar with on the B.J. Thomas version of “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head,” Bacharach allows strings and an oboe to carry the tune. The highlight of “Classics” is a little-known instrumental, “Nikki,” which is named after his daughter. Veteran television viewers will recognize the song as the catchy theme of the old “ABC Movie Of The Week.”

“Classics” is a nice easy-going summary of the highlights of the Bacharach-David partnership.

Patsy Cline

“Remembering Patsy Cline”

(MCA Nashville)

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Patsy Cline’s death in a plane crash outside Nashville. Cline’s old record label, MCA, selected different artists to give their interpretations of her hits for a tribute album entitled appropriately, “Remembering Patsy Cline.” Not surprisingly the strongest performances are turned in by contemporary country stars Terri Clark and Rebecca Lynn Howard who shine on “Walking After Midnight” and “You’re Stronger Than Me” respectively. Teen star Michelle Branch channels Cline’s spirit with a rousing version of “Strange.”

On the debit side are the presence of smooth jazz stars Natalie Cole, Norah Jones and Diana Krall. Cole’s sleepy version of “Fall To Pieces” and Jones’ equally soporific “Why Can’t He Be You” can cure insomnia. Krall’s “Crazy” also drags badly.

“Remembering Patsy Cline” is a laudable but uneven project. My suggestion is to pick up the recently remastered copy of Cline’s “12 Greatest Hits.”

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