Barbra Streisand: Partners

Okay….I admit to being an unabashed fan of Barbra Streisand…from the time I was like 12-years-old.

Despite my obsession with the burgeoning musicality of the Beatles and many of the other British artists, and the pulsating, kinetic drive of Motown, James Brown and Aretha Franklin, Barbra Streisand seemed to fit right in – with that incredible, compelling voice – and introduced this neophyte not only to the Great American Songbook but to her mesmerizing, unequalled artistry.

In her newest offering, Partners, Barbra sounds stronger than she has in several musical outings as of late, perhaps inspired by this myriad of male vocal partners, who each brings his A-game – and the result is, at times, breathtaking.

The disc starts with Streisand singing the verse to her iconic 1963 version of “It Had to Be You,” which then transforms into old-fashioned, big-band jauntiness, with the oh-so-cool Michael Bublé. Streisand and Bublé seem to be having a ball actually, and it infectiously establishes a tone for her other duet partners.

Stevie Wonder and Barbra transform “People” (first introduced by Barbra in 1964) into a warm, relaxed bossa nova, complete with Wonder supplying harmonica fills. The result? A little musical gem has been created of this song, which is destined to become timeless by their evocative delivery.

Driven by the imaginatively impeccable producing talents of Walter Afanasieff and Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, Partners creates a pitch-perfect setting for each pairing, breathing new musical life into Streisand classics, such as “The Way We Were” with Lionel Richie and “Evergreen” with Babyface — and transform them into melodically fresh offerings for the listening artistic ear as well.

Barbra and Andrea Bocelli are harmoniously compatible in the lushly romantic “I Still Can See Your Face”, while Josh Grobin matches her bombast on “Somewhere” and maintains a longing for that place, that time, somewhere.

With son Jason Gould, the duo offers the CD’s most poignant and effusive singing on “How Deep Is the Ocean,” and Streisand is at her peak here. No one is quite like Barbra. No one.

John Mayer’s vocal and guitar work on “Come Rain or Come Shine” and Billy Joel dueting on “New York State of Mind” serve to highlight Streisand’s more earthy – and yet – fun sensibilities.

The mechanical wizardry that the production team provides for Elvis Presley and Barbra dueting on “Love Me Tender” serves a historic meeting of the pair, making us wistful, alas, for what could have been. Another gem.

And the standout pairing is clearly Streisand and John Legend on “What Kind of Fool.” Flawlessly, they create magic, offering Legend a chance to truly shine in his meeting with Barbra.

Still, after more than 50 years of recording, Barbra Streisand’s Partners provides us with yet more tangible proof that she is simply the greatest.

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