This is Tony Bennett’s third trip to the Duets well, and he’s come up rather dry. The original Duets, released in 2006, included a pairing with Colombian vocalist Juanes. Last year, one selection on Duets II featured Bennett with Spanish singer-songwriter Alejandro Sanz. Viva Duets was intended to build on the popularity of those two tracks by teaming Bennett with a full slate of Latin artists. As always, his guest list is distinguished, extending from Marc Anthony, Gloria Estefan and Christina Aguilera to Mexican superstar Thalía and Puerto Rican pop sensation Chayanne.
Trouble is, the hackneyed album makes little or no allowance for the unique talents and sensibilities of Bennett’s playmates. The program is uninspired. With the exception of “Return to Me,” Bennett has covered these tunes at least twice in the past—and, in most cases, three or four times—and included all but two on previous Duets projects. The arrangements, though polished, are near identical to those Bennett has used before. The expectation is that each partner will bend to his crooner style, which they respectfully do, often stifling their distinct verve in the process. And Bennett, for the first time since the inception of the Duets series, seems detached, content across most tracks to simply swap lines and verses rather than truly, deeply connect with his confreres.