Tony Bennett – Duets (Columbia Records): Duet albums can be a gimmick grabbed by an artist fresh out of ideas. But that doesn't apply to this thoroughly entertaining album. After more than five decades of recording, Anthony Dominick Benedetto (better known as Tony Bennett) is still one cool cat and a master interpreter of jazz and popular standards. Here he teams up with 18 remarkable A-list singers from across the musical spectrum, and not a single track goes "clunk." Can he snap out "Lullaby of Broadway" with country music's Dixie Chicks? Swing through "I Wanna Be Around" with rock icon Bono? Duel with diva Céline Dion on "If I Ruled the World?" Croon "The Very Thought of You" with Sir Paul McCartney?

Oh, yeah, he can. Grade: A
– Gregory M. Lamb


Beck – The Information (Interscope Records): Ground control to Major Beck ... adrift in a space-junk universe, the ever-morphing Beck orbits the earth in a craft built solely from Radio Shack parts. He white-boy raps like somebody who just woke up from a very long nap and informs the planet, "I'm a seasick sailor on a ship of noise/ I got all my maps backwards/ and my instincts poisoned." The cowbell-and-piano driven, Rolling Stones soundalike "Strange Apparition" and a tale about a homeless vet "Soldier Jane" emerge as standouts. His singsong vocals reverberating from the eye of a thick, beeping and swirling sonic cosmos, Beck Hansen is the captain of this vessel – and we are lucky to be his passengers. What a trip. Grade: A–
John Kehe

Evanescence – The Open Door (Wind-up Records): On an Evanescence album the snarling, buzzing, gnawing riffs make the guitars sound as if they're operated by a rip cord. But don't call the band's music heavy metal. It's more like brittle alloy. That's because the walls of guitar often seem like a fortress for the vulnerable feelings of Amy Lee, a singer who shares the same vocal range and emotional space as Sarah McLachlan. Lee's striking instrument, often accompanied by teardrops of piano, can just as easily turn strident and angry on songs such as "Sweet Sacrifice," the opening track of the band's second album, "The Open Door." Evanescence has never been better than on tracks such as "Like You" and "Good Enough." Unfortunately, the new record is too long at 13 cuts, and it doesn't expand upon the pop-metal template of the band's debut, "Fallen," which has sold 14 million copies. "The Open Door" is a good placeholder, but big sales may evanesce if Evanescence doesn't broaden its musical repertoire on its next album. Grade: B
– Stephen Humphries

Elton John – The Captain & the Kid (Interscope Records): Drenched in bittersweet nostalgia, Sir Elton's latest record succeeds more than it has any right to. Touted as a companion to 1975's "Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy" – the notion of an album sequel hints at a quixotic bid for relevance – "The Captain & the Kid" mostly steers clear of the Disneyfied schlock that John has created during the past two decades. The Rocket Man, aided by longtime lyricist partner Bernie Taupin, soars with piano power pop ("Just Like Noah's Ark"), a bawdy anthem about addiction ("... And the House Fell Down"), and the gorgeous title track, replete with clever name-checks of signature works. The downside? Three limp ballads too many and a lead track ("Postcards from Richard Nixon") that isn't half as clever as intended. Grade: B
Erik Spanberg

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