Prime Cuts: What Kind of Fool (with John Legend), I'd Want It to Be With You (with Blake Shelton), It Had to be You (with Blake Shelton)
Even at the age of 72, there's still no slowing down for Barbra Streisand. "Partners" reveals that Streisand is nowhere near her rocking chair or lounging at the retirement home. While many of her peers and some of whom are even younger, are either dead or croaking their way through their autumnal years having lost their vocal prowess through drug abuse and excessive touring, Streisand's mezzo-soprano is still at its commanding pristine. The shades of vocal nuances especially those of her higher registers are by no means trimmed with the passing of the years. They are still as poignant, powerful and distinctive. Even with two Academy Awards, 8 Grammy Awards, 5 Emmy Awards, 4 Gold Globes and one special Tony Award, there's still no stopping for this singer of "People." "Partners," her 34th studio album, is bound to add to her platinum studded career. Thus far, she has already amassed for herself 71.5 million albums in the US and 245 million worldwide. And hanging on her wall also are the plaques for her 51 gold albums, 30 platinum albums and her 13 multi-platinum albums.
"Partners" is Streisand's follow up album to her 2002 duet album. This time round Streisand has chosen to work with 12 distinctive male voices judiciously divided between legendary stars including Lionel Richie, Babyface, Stevie Wonder, Billy Joel, Andrea Bocelli, Elvis and the younger stalwarts of today's music including John Legend, Blake Shelton, Michael Buble and Josh Groban. The only duet partner that doesn't really belong to either category is Streisand's son Jason Gould who sings with his mother on Irving Berlin's "How Deep is the Ocean." Material wise, Streisand has somehow taken the safer route by re-cutting entries from her own extensive songbook as well as a few standards plus two brand new original songs: the first being her duet with Blake Shelton ("I'd Want It to be With You") followed by her collaboration with contemporary classical Andrea Bocelli ("I Can Still See Your Face").
So, in the meantime, how does "Partners" fare? There are definitely tracks Streisand and her cohorts excel; this includes the lead single and the duet with Michael Buble "It Had to be You." Though Streisand had first recorded this classic 50 years ago, her rendition today is still as poised. The way Streisand can emotionally dive into her song as if every nuance is life and death to her is itself artistry worthy of standing ovations. And the way she can also liven up evidenced through her chuckle with Buble midway through the song shows how versatile this singer cum actress cum movie director is. Speaking of versatility, nothing shows Streisand's command over the various genres of music better than her duet with Blake Shelton. Written by Steve Dorff, Jay Landers and Bobby Tomberlin, "I'd Want It to Be With You" finds Streisand and Shelton at ease with each other on this gorgeous steel-laden country love ballad personalized by both singers. Transformed into a big band affair is Streisand's former 80s duet with Barry Gibb "What Kind of Fool." Though John Legend is on the non-descriptive side vocally, this new treatment of "What Kind of Fool" is lush, beautiful and refreshing.
With Streisand's legendary demand to be note precise, the more soul leaning artists definitely find it a restrain singing with her. In this regard, Stevie Wonder sounds awfully out of place on "People." There's a sense of restless aloofness in Wonder's vocal intonations that really is a mismatched for the solemn and somehow plaintive tenure of one of Streisand's most notable hits. Babyface, on the other hand, fares a little better with his impromptu ad libs on "Evergreen." While Streisand can show restrain with certain artists, she seems to be far too overwhelming for John Mayer on "Come Rain or Come Shine." So much so that Streisand takes over the song with her long elongated notes leaving a stunned and silent Mayer in bewilderment. Resurrecting the golden voice of the King, Elvis Presley's voice is merged with Streisand on "Love Me Tender." Though it's on the soporific side, it's still a treat to see what modern technology can do.
Rumor has it that even before this album has run its course, Streisand is already planning the next installment of duets, this time with the ladies. And if the grapevine can be trusted, one of those ladies roped in for a duet is the late iconic Whitney Houston. If that's the case, then it would definitely be history in the making. In the meantime, "Partners" is a treat if you love the never failing voice of Streisand singing some of the most beautiful love songs you can ever find.
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