Streisand’s duets a disappointing surprise
An invitation from Barbra Streisand to record a duet is still the closest thing in pop to a royal summons. Her newest duets album, “Partners,” with its blurred edges and pastel shades, is even mistier, gauzier and more texturally diffuse than such confections as “Guilty.” The instrumentation and the vocal tracks are so processed in pursuit of a high-gloss perfection that any sense of two people standing side by side and singing their hearts out is lost.
Some cuts are so swamped in echo that Streisand’s male partners, especially John Mayer on “Come Rain or Come Shine,” Billy Joel in “New York State of Mind,” Josh Groban on “Somewhere” and John Legend on “What Kind of Fool” are only semi-recognizable. “New York State of Mind,” in particular, is an exercise in bombastic excess that smothers the song. The only distinctive element of the Mayer duet is a stunted little guitar solo.
Streisand’s voice has noticeably diminished in size, but its signature quality, an ingrained sob, still exerts its pull. The choppy calls and responses between Streisand and her partners, however, lack conversational or narrative flow, and you have an uncomfortable sense that the parts were spliced together after the fact.
Andrea Bocelli (“I Still Can See Your Face”), surprisingly, is a vocal mismatch. So is Blake Shelton (“I’d Want It to Be You”). A beyond-the-grave duet with Elvis Presley on “Love Me Tender” is a crass commercial stunt that should have been omitted. More listenable is the duet with Lionel Richie, “The Way We Were.” But in general, remakes of songs Streisand has recorded before are inferior to the originals.
Only once, on a moderately swinging rendition of “It Had to Be You,” with Michael Bublé, is there a suggestion of ease and naturalness and genuine enjoyment. The most touching cut is the mother-son duet, “How Deep Is the Ocean,” by Streisand with Jason Gould. She knows what she’s singing about and really feels it.