Who is the highest-selling female recording artist ever? It's not Madonna, Celine Dion or, bless her, Dolly Parton. Nope, with 47 gold albums in a 40-year career, Barbra Streisand shows them all a clean pair of heels in the diva stakes. Only Elvis has sold more records. Not bad for an actress who sings, as she once described herself.
La Barbra's 57th album, "Duets', is a collection of 17 duet hits and two new tracks. Given that there is very little previously unheard here, does this album illustrate anything more than the impossibly glamorous contents of Streisand's address book?
Well, yes. Even the most faithful Streisand acolyte must be delighted by the range of songs and singers assembled. There is 70s disco with the high priests of glitterball: Donna Summer and Barry Gibb. Streisand and Michael Crawford engage in a 'who-can-hold-the-note-longest' competition in Lloyd-Webber's "The Music of the Night". (The winner, of course, is Streisand.) And there are chart hits in the form of 1978's wistful "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" with Neil Diamond, and the 1998 epic "Tell Him" with Celine Dion.
Two new tracks bookend the previously-released pieces. "I Won't Be The One To Let Go" with Barry Manilow is a soaring, feel-good ballad. "All I Know Of Love" with young baritone Josh Groban brings the album to a stately close and shows that Barbra can still hold her own yet another new generation.
Best of all are two gems from the start of Streisand's career. "Ding-dong! The Witch is Dead", sung with a deadpan Harold Arlen, the Wizard of Oz soundtrack composer, is witty, jazzy, almost avant-garde in its syncopation. It would barely be recognised in Munchkinland.
Backed up against it is an exquisite duet with Judy Garland, recorded live in 1963 on The Judy Garland Show. "Get Happy / Happy Days Are Here Again" counterpoints two classic songs, with Streisand's pure, youthful notes pirouetting around Garland's throaty, unbearably melancholy voice. Simply thrilling.
Getting a duet with Streisand is an essential step on the path to musical superstardom. Robbie Williams must be hoping that his phone rings very soon. --Morag Reavley
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