Throughout the years, La Streisand has offered us some memorable duets, but her latest offers a slew of new ones. Here’s what to expect, from “Why bother?” to “Wow!”
12. I’d Want It to Be You (with Blake Shelton)
“The Voice” may have catapulted Blake Shelton to superstardom, but this bland and forgettable country track doesn’t do either him or Babs any favors. It seems to me that in a genre as bursting-at-the-seams with artists, Streisand could’ve picked better.
11. Come Rain or Come Shine (with John Mayer)
“Come Rain or Come Shine” is one of my all-time favorite songs, but that doesn’t save this ill-conceived track. The best part is the guitar, which I’m assuming is Mayer, who noodles nicely around the melody with it. But vocally, both stars are not at their best, with Babs sounding forced and Mayer, catatonic.
10. What Kind of Fool (with John Legend)
This track scores low (perhaps unfairly) because I was expecting the amazing Shirley Bassey number “What Kind of Fool Am I?” — which I think Streisand and Legend would have knocked out of the park. What is it actually? Just nice-ish. Barbra sounds pretty good; Legend’s creamy vocals complement hers nicely, and the harmony works fine. I’d say: It sounds like a slightly-above-average 80s duet, but it’s not much to write home about.
9. People (with Stevie Wonder)
Did we need another recording of Barbra doing “People”? Absolutely not. Even with Stevie lending the song a stepped up beat and some of his trademark harmonica, it never adds up to the explosion that a duet between artists of this magnitude should offer. I would’ve much preferred to hear them tackle a Wonder track, which asked Babs to step into his groove — perhaps “Sir Duke”?
8. I Still Can See Your Face (with Andrea Bocelli)
Streisand steps squarely into Bocelli’s wheelhouse with this one, which features all the tell-tale signs of Bocelli: lush orchestrations, counterpoint lyrics in Italian, bombast. It’s serviceable — if not particularly thrilling. I would’ve preferred them to do something a capella. Also did no one question the ick-factor of asking a blind man to sing “I Still Can SEE Your Face?”
7. Love Me Tender (with Elvis Presley)
It’s no “Unforgettable” — arguably the gold standard of alive people singing with dead people — but this track goes right in ways some of the others go wrong. A spare arrangement really highlights the vocal prowess of two inimitable voices. With both Queen and King sounding on-point, the song’s plaintive plea for love is highlighted to great emotional effect. It may be gimmicky, but it works.
6. Somewhere (with Josh Groban)
Did anyone ever need to hear EITHER of these artists sing this song again? No. Fortunately, they seem to get that — keeping the track relatively short. Plus, either the arranger or Groban is to be credited with constructing a variety of intricate harmonies for the pair, which are delivered with both confidence and delicacy. I was surprised how much I liked this track — especially because I was sure I would despise it.
5. Evergreen (with Babyface)
It seems like Babyface makes everyone sound better — and that’s almost true here. Certainly the arrangement brings new life and freshness to this old chestnut, and the result is a great track. However, it’s also true that Babyface’s vocal acrobatics occasionally make it feel like he’s one of those pros on “Dancing with the Stars” that’s paired with an older contestant and so makes her basically stand still and while he dances circles around her to distract from the fact that one of them is slightly crippled.
4. The Way We Were (with Lionel Richie)
How nice it is to hear someone other than Barbra sing the opening line of this song?! And it just gets better from there. Streisand and Richie are perfectly matched and their harmony is beautiful. I had no idea I could enjoy re-encountering this song again so much.
3. How Deep Is the Ocean (with Jason Gould)
Proud Mama Streisand allows son Jason Gould the longest Barbra-free opening of any track of the album — but that’s perfectly okay because this is an amazing song, and he sounds great. It’s beautiful to listen for vocal tricks he’s picked up from Mom over the years, and from the moment she joins in, it’s clear that Streisand is pouring every ounce of emotion she has into this song. The whole piece rises to an incredible climax that might be the purest expression of mother/son affection ever recorded.
2. It Had to Be You (with Michael Bublé)
As you might expect with an old warhorse like this song, it starts sounding a little bit like a wedding at which the Best Man and the groom’s favorite aunt got up and decided to do a little ditty. But somewhere in the middle, it kicks into high gear with a huge boost in energy, fabulous harmony and interplay between Streisand and Bublé, and ultimately finishes with both a bang and a sense that the two artists had a blast making it happen.
1. New York State of Mind (with Billy Joel)
Damn, is Billy Joel still in great voice or what?! The fact that he sounds like he hasn’t aged a day does somewhat highlight the color that has crept into Barbra’s voice over the years — but I actually love hearing an artist mature in that way. And it doesn’t stop her from keeping up with him and taking the melody in interesting new directions. I love that you can really feel the musical conversation going on between these two titans. But, perhaps most importantly of all, you can really hear that these are two artists who love New York; it shines through from start to finish. As an added bonus, their little spoken exchange at the end (I won’t spoil it, but it’s so very New York) will absolutely melt your heart.
Paul Hagen is the Editor-in-Chief of Metrosource Magazine and a contributor to The Focus Group with Tim Bennett and John Nash. Tweet to him @misterpaulhagen.