To get the feel of Barbra Streisand's new "Partners" (Columbia) album -- which pairs her with a wide range of singers, from Stevie Wonder to Blake Shelton -- you really only need to hear her duet with Billy Joel on "New York State of Mind."
It's an incredible arrangement of Joel's anthem, and they both turn in stellar performances, with Joel hitting notes we haven't heard from him before and Streisand's connection with the song pushing her vocals to stunning heights. They opted for a jazzier-leaning take, with Joel's delivery seemingly influenced by the time he has spent with Tony Bennett, but it still packs an emotional punch.
Then, as the orchestral swell fades, Streisand says, "Billy, let's go get some pizza."
"What about some Chinese?" Joel replies.
"Even better," Streisand says.
Um, OK. Why is there a weird exchange that detracts from an otherwise great performance? Because Streisand wants it that way.
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It happens again during her duet with Shelton, "I'd Want It to Be You," which may be the most obvious candidate for a hit on the whole collection, as Streisand shows that her voice can shine in a country setting as well as any other. However, the song grinds to a halt when she refers to Shelton as "sweet as a honey bee," a reference to his hit, and he calls her a "funny girl," which draws a chuckle from her.
Streisand, who generally sounds fantastic across the board on "Partners," may have done even better if she listened to someone asking, "Are you sure?"
THE GRADE B
BOTTOM LINE A mixed bag of great performances and weird ones.