Friday, September 26, 2014

"Partners & Cheek To Cheek" (Reviews)

Christmas comes early this year with new releases from two of the most celebrated and familiar voices in music, Barbra Streisand and Tony Bennett.While Streisand receives helping hands from not one but 12 male duet partners, Bennett is kindly assisted by none other than, Lady Gaga. 

Streisand’s “Partners” benefits from its two experienced producers, Walter Afanasieff (the master mind behind Mariah Carey’s earlier albums) and hit maker, Babyface, who also scores big by getting to sing with Babs on two numbers (“Evergreen” & “Lost Inside Of You”).

If the bubbly opener, the  BublĂ©-featured “It Had To Be You” is an appealing book cover, the Andrea Bocelli- pairing, "I Still Can See Your Face" is the irresistible centerfold, a pure delight where two vocal titans share their beautiful instruments with the world. 

Standouts include the bluesy “Come Rain Or Come Shine”, collaboration with John Mayer and the mum-and-son ballad, “How Deep is The Ocean”. The sheer beauty of Jason Gould’s voice could find audience in adult contemporary genre like Josh Groban if he further pursues music career.

No one sings about love and heartache better nowadays than John Legend. That’s why “What Kind Of Fool” is the perfect choice for him. Both Barbra signature tunes, “Evergreen” and “The Way We Were” get major revamp. While the former succeeds sounding polished and present, the latter is unrecognisable due to overambitious vocal arrangement that tries too hard to stray from the nostalgic original. A classic that doesn’t require an update perhaps. 

Once known for her one-of-a-kind vocal power and soaring high notes, Streisand now finds strength in her warmer texture and deeper tone – that famous vibrato is still in tact and used to emote with full throttle. At 72, her voice is still unbelievably frisky and youthful (“It Had To Be You”) rich and ripe the next (“People” with Stevie Wonder). It gets a tad too raspy during “New York State Of Mind” with Billy Joel. Knowing her current voice all too well, Streisand stays within her comfort zone all throughout. After all this is her 34th studio album, there’s nothing more to prove but to celebrate.

Tony Bennett, meanwhile, is no stranger to duet albums. He has in fact a few under his belt. His 2011’s Duets II features a chirpy rendition of “The Lady Is a Tramp” with Lady Gaga, which kick started this collaborative effort, “Cheek To Cheek”

Singing standards by Porter, Gershwin and Berlin, the duo opens the set with the promising, “Anything Goes”, which sets the tone yet finishes too early leaving the listeners longing for more. The two get playful once again on bouncy "Goody Goody", “Let’s Face The Music and Dance” and “They All Laughed”. But not all duets sizzle. “But Beautiful” for example lacks both energy and chemistry that even Streisand’s virtual duet with dead Elvis, “Love Me Tender” has more oomph. “Nature Boy” as well sounds dreary and detached.

Bennett, skilled and seasoned, is efficient and at ease; another day in the office. Gaga holds her own and even gets to do her thing. Her solos, "Lush Life" and “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” give listeners a side of her voice that’s yet unheard. The live cover of “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)”, though not classified as Jazz, displays theatrical quality of her voice and incredible showmanship. However, Jazz is still quite a stretch from her usual EDM and it demands more flexibility, it seems.

Call this a passion project or a drunken dare! But let’s face it; if Mercury and Pluto were to collide, balls of fire are expected. Likewise, anticipations are high for this odd pairing. The truth is, when it was a song, it was exciting. But the entire album, then it becomes excess. 

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