Tony Bennett is hard at work at New York's Hit Factory on a new Columbia blues album, titled "Playing With My Friends: Bennett Sings the Blues." Produced by Phil Ramone, the set features a wealth of g

Tony Bennett is hard at work at New York's Hit Factory on a new Columbia blues album, titled "Playing With My Friends: Bennett Sings the Blues." Produced by Phil Ramone, the set features a wealth of guest appearances from the likes of Sheryl Crow, Stevie Wonder, Billy Joel, Ray Charles, k.d. lang, Bonnie Raitt, Diana Krall, and, as previously reported, B.B. King.

While the project bears some resemblance to Frank Sinatra's "Duets" albums, also produced by Ramone and featuring contemporary artists, many of them rock'n'roll singers, there are significant differences. All guest artists are recording on site with Bennett and the band; there is no remote collaboration.

"From the very beginning, we decided not to do that," engineer Joel Moss tells Billboard. "A few guest artists did request to be in a booth so that they could fix the vocals, but once everybody saw the setup, they got right into wanting to be up there with Tony. There's nobody on this project who isn't incredible -- every one of these singers is absolutely for real. They're in a situation that they never get to be in. The freedom of just getting up there and singing has worked great with everybody. And the people who asked specifically to be in the booth probably got off on it more than anybody else."

Bennett and lang's summer North American tour kicks off July 25 in Portland, Maine.

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