Barbra needs no introduction. At age 72, there seems to be no stopping the singing and acting legend, who is still making music on top of her long, glittering career. In fact, she only just released her thirty-fourth studio album this month. Titled Partners, it’s a staggering 17-track album featuring duets with other musical greats, including Lionel Richie, Billy Joel and even Elvis Presley. The end result is a dreamy, romantic and swaying soundtrack that will take you to another place.
It seems that romance is the key theme of this album. There are several winning tracks on here, including the album’s opener It Had To Be You. The track kicks off with a flourish of sweeping strings, before Streisand takes over with her familiar, tinkling voice. She enlists the help of crooner Michael Bublé – clearly a match made in heaven, for their voices are well suited for one another. Bublé’s voice is like silk, softly caressing each note while the brass work their jazzy magic in the background.
Streisand’s vocals however, are like a wine – they only get better with age. This clearly shows in the duet with Babyface, Evergreen. The track builds up to a powerful chorus where both are belting with all the earnest they can muster – but thankfully, not outdoing one another. Babyface actually brings a bit of an R&B feel to this timeless sounding track – think Michael Jackson and Ne-Yo’s gentleman vibes. There’s some lovely harmonising and synchronisation between the two, as they sing together and around each other. Likewise, Somewhere featuring Josh Groban is another duet that features sizzling vocal chemistry. Here, Streisand sings about escaping to a secret somewhere with her lover, and Groban is more than happy to oblige. He responds with his trademark verbrato, lingering on his lower tones before sliding effortlessly to his higher register. To set the mood, the strings offer a beautiful cinematic arrangement that throws the track into a magical setting. It’s one of the few tracks on the album which have a spine-chilling effect.
The album mainly explores the traditional pop, jazz and musical genres. The production of each song must have been time consuming but ultimately pays off – the overall result catapults us to a timeless era of jazz, swing and ultimate romance. Take New York State of Mind, her duet with Billy Joel. The track starts slow and easy before building into a climatic bridge, then simmers down to a smouldering finish. It’s perfectly arranged to capture the smooth blend of musical and jazz. The style fits the artists like a glove and you can tell they’re having fun, especially with their little banter at the end: “Billy, let’s go get some pizza!” / “How ’bout some Chinese?” / “Oh, even better!” It may be a corny add-on, but their eagerness make up for it.
People, featuring Stevie Wonder, is also a jazzy number thanks to that swingy saxophone. But somehow it has a more waltzy vibe intertwined with it, until it almost resembles elevator music. Another gentle crooner is The Way We Were with Lionel Richie. This one is more subdued and dreamy compared to the others, and unfortunately, not as memorable. It’s all gentle mutterings and sweet nothings, but it’s still not enough zest to sell the song.
Then there are duets that don’t quite cut it at all – either it’s not convincing enough, or the partnering is all wrong. Come Rain Or Shine is a mismatched duet with John Mayer; his voice is too cool and suave, and much too boyish against Streisand’s mature and raspy vocals. It’s hard to make out the chemistry, if any at all. The highlight here would only be Mayer’s exceptional electric guitar solo. It’s the same story with I’d Want It To Be You – Blake Shelton may be a country rock legend, but his thick Tennessee accent has no place on this gentle, 80’s-inspired love ballad. And Love Me Tender, her virtual duet with Elvis Presley, just results in sounding a bit odd. It seems the technological age has wiped out any hope of vocal chemistry between the two greats; Streisand soars above and beyond while Presley only remains underrated in the background.
Considering Streisand’s status in Hollywood, none would be surprised to find that only the greatest classic singers are featured on the track list. After all, it makes sense that Streisand would only pair herself with music greats who match her talent. What we get is an exceptionally produced album of dreamy hits that will surely have you swaying to the beat. If you’re after a sensual and ultimately romantic soundtrack, then this is the album for you.