Ever since Frank Sinatra released his first Duets CD more than 20 years ago, the powerhouse musical matchup has become a feature in the recording industry; there’s even a special category for it at the Grammy Awards now.
That first Sinatra CD featured a duet with Barbra Streisand — already then a legend in her own right, but ensconced more so now — such that she’s the anchor to her new CD Partners, which pairs her with the likes of Michael Buble, John Mayer, Babyface and more.
Like Ol’ Blue Eyes, Babs features songs that she both originally popularized and those that she has covered. Streisand, by reputation, isn’t known as being a great sharer of the spotlight, so it’s a surprise that she agreed to pair up with anybody on signature songs like “People” and “The Way We Were” (with Stevie Wonder and Lionel Ritchie, respectively). Of course, she accomplishes this by doing all new arrangements, which make — especially in the case of “People” — the versions so significantly divergent from her own, it barely feels like the same song at all.
The tracks run the gamut, from Great American Songbook standards like “It Had To Be You,” “Come Rain or Come Shine” and “How Deep is the Ocean” (with son Jason Gould, who has his mom’s gift in microcosm) to Sondheim’s “Somewhere” or even “New York State of Mind” — a song Barbra recorded successfully after its composer, Billy Joel, failed to make his own version a radio hit. So who does she pick the team up with on that one? You guessed it: It’s a diva-off with Streisand and Joel both laying claim to the best interpretation … and the union is a smash, playful and melodic.
Wonderfully and unexpectedly, however, the songs don’t feel dominated or even gimmicky (at least until the “duet” with Elvis — don’t ask). Barbra, it seems, is as giving and collaborative as you’d hoped she would be given, the level of powerhouse performers she synced up with.
Purists may object to the jazzed up orchestrations; others may feel older songs are in great need of an updating to make them fresh and relevant again. In any event,
Barbra’s voice is clarion-clear as always. She still belts like the Broadway baby she is … which isn’t to everyone’s taste, but when it comes to classic song making, there is La Streisand, and there’s everybody else.
Three stars; available Tuesday.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 12, 2014.