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2011 Top 10 Albums for Grownups

Tony Bennett, Paul Simon and Barbra Streisand among our best bets

Album cover for Tom Waits's album

Tom Waits, Bad As Me

Tom Waits is the bard of the Boulevard of Broken Dreams. For nearly 40 years, Waits has presided over a musical landscape that's part vaudeville, part Dust Bowl, part drunken ragtime and wholly original. Yes, Tom Waits' voice and his approach to arrangement may not please all listeners. But underneath the gravel of his voice and the raggedness of his rhythm is the heart of a nostalgic romantic. Take a listen to "Last Leaf" with its chorus, "I'm the last leaf on the tree/The autumn took the rest but they won't take me" and you'll understand that Waits knows what it means to savor every moment.

What the judges say: David Wild says: "So good, so compelling, so Tom Waits."

Listen to Back in the Crowd by Tom Waits...

 

Album cover for Raphael Saadiq's album, 'Stone Rollin'

Raphael Saadiq, Stone Rollin'

Raphael Saadiq, a musical alchemist schooled by R&B legends, is loyal to old-school soul. Like the sounds of other revivalists, such as Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings or Fitz & the Tantrums, Saadiq's Stone Rollin' is a celebration of days when music was a hand-crafted affair, built with sweat and a fine tailor. Saadiq — who got his start touring with Prince at age 18 — sells us from the opening strains of the Motown-infused "Heart Attack." It's a soulful, joyful ride.

What the judges say: Edna Gunderson raves, "With unapologetic gusto and glorious results, the former Tony! Toni! Toné! singer marinates in old-school Motown and Philly soul."

Listen to Good Man by Saadiq...

 

Album Cover for Tony Bennett's

Tony Bennett, Duets II

With Frank Sinatra gone, Tony Bennett is left holding the title of the last of the great American vocalists. On Duets II, he sings with country crooners, pop stars, soul-stirrers and opera maestros — showing them all how a standard is truly sung. The late Amy Winehouse's duet on "Body and Soul" grabbed most of the album's attention — and deservedly so. It's tragic in its subtext and tender in its delivery. Still, it's not the only classic worth revisiting. Duets II is full of goose bumps. In the hands of a master like Bennett, these standards feel like the first time.

What the judges say: Dave Koz sums it up when he says, "come on ... 85 years old and having a #1 pop album? Only Tony."

Video: Tony Bennett duet with Andrea Bocelli

Barbara Streisand album

Barbra Streisand, What Matters Most

Aside from being a lovely lesson in friendship (Streisand has been singing Alan and Marilyn Bergman's songs for more than 50 years), What Matters Most is a master class in song craft and vocal interpretation. Here, Streisand is a model of self-restraint. The entire album is a love letter written by well-read friends who share the same fascination for sophisticated melodies and songs that play like stories — not slogans.

What the judges say: Record and multimedia producer Shawn Amos says: "Every singer should hope to grow old with such luck and grace."

Video: Barbra Streisand's Favorite Songwriters

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