Barry Manilow “My Dream Duets” Album Review

Barry Manilow

Prime: I Believe in You and Me (with Whitney Houston), What a Wonderful Life/What a Wonderful World (with Louis Armstrong), The Song's Gotta Come from the Heart (with Jimmy Durante)

There's something ghastly spooky about Barry Manilow's "My Dream Duets."  Released on the week of Halloween, this album finds the 71 year-old crooner opening the crypt to find his duet partners where most of them are already nothing but mere bones.  In fact, all of Manilow's dream duet partners are all dead.  Saved for Whitney Houston who died two years ago in the tub at the Beverley Hills' Hilton, all the remaining song birds have been dead for scores of years.  Manilow certainly adds a new varnish of meaning to the immortal phrase "I hear dead people."  Nevertheless, before our faces turn ashen with disgust, two things worked in favor for the Mandy singer.  First, virtually none of his singing companions are going to gripe about being over-sung or underwhelmed by Manilow.  Second, thanks are in order to uber producer David Foster (Whitney Houston, Madonna and Celine Dion) and Manilow for creating such a top notched sound that many of Manilow's deceased microphone holders sound like they were right there with Manilow in the studios.

When Manilow commenced his tenure at Arista Records, his biggest contention with Clive Davis back in the 80s was he was not comfortable singing the songs crafted by other scribes.  After all these years, it's refreshing to hear a wiser and more mature Manilow singing with Jimmy Durante "The Song's Gotta Come from the Heart," where he wisely opines that the inherent beauty of the song does not reside in its sui genesis but with the way one sings it.  And the way he interacts with Jimmy Durante sounds as if the two were both in the same booth trading lines with each other.  Despite working with the restricted contours where Manilow has to jigger his way around the recorded vocals of Frankie Lymon's "Goody Goody," he doesn't sound deferent.  Rather, he sounds alive and engages with Lymon satisfactorily.  Adding a harmonica ending where John Denver's "Country Roads" fades out their duet "Sunshine on My Shoulders," one can't help but shed a tear at how death has such of way of robbing many such great talents.

The true gem that deserves a million house lights is Manilow's duet with powerhouse Whitney Houston.  Their duet here is Houston's Billboard #4 hit from 1996's "The Preacher's Wife" soundtrack "I Believe in You and Me."  Never trying to out stage Houston, Manilow allows Houston to build the song effortlessly before she adds her Gospel music-influenced long-note holding liberties to this gorgeous love ballad that has the way of sky scraping the heavens and digs deep enough into the recesses of our hearts.  From Houston's pop ballad, Manilow goes big band with his favorite female artist Judy Garland on "Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart."  But Manilow is not just one that works his vocals alongside his partners.  On his duet with Louis Armstrong, Manilow and Bruce Sussman wrote a brand new song "What a Wonderful Life" that seamlessly flows into one of America's most iconic songs for world peace "What a Wonderful World."

Hearing Andy Williams singing in his prime "Moon River," one can't help but notice how much Manilow and Williams share the same range and vocal nuances in so many areas.  At the end of the day, this isn't a mere crypt keeper project.  Rather, it's a refreshing way of re-introducing these great voices to a new generation by an artist who is dynamic and knows how to bring out the best in himself and his partners.  And unlike his partners, he's no stiff. 



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