Yes, I am a Barbra superfan, but I would like to think I blindly just accept everything she does as gospel. When I first read about her new album. “Encores: Movie Partners Sing Broadway,” I have to admit I was skeptical. Another duets album? Didn’t she just release one, “Partners,” and didn’t I not really love that album? But, I told myself, this is a Broadway album, and I have been eagerly awaiting an album of theater songs from her. And certainly the song selection is fantastic, with rare gems from Sondheim. I mean, what theater queen wouldn’t rejoice?
Like I would resist, right? I have been living with the album for the past couple of days and I have been living large. First of all, one MUST get the Target Deluxe version, because there are four extra tracks there, and every single one of those extra tracks is a slice of heaven, which makes me wish she had done a full album by herself. But we all live in Barbra’s album and we get what she wants to give us.
First of all, she sings one of my favorite songs of all time, “Fifty Percent.” And I have to confess, the first time I heard her full version of that song here, I wept – like Oprah ugly cry wept. There’s such sheer beauty in it, and sometimes I think I get too jaded with life being life that I forget that art – music – can still touch me. And how many times have I heard ‘I Didn’t Know What Time It Was,’ and feel like I am hearing it for the first time, because I think this song is perfect for Barbra right now – she is older, wiser, most comfortable.
Actually, I can’t remember the last time she was this comfortable. Don’t get me wrong, you can feel her steely control in everything here, but maybe older age has taught her to let go a little bit. Two Sondheim classics round out the extra tracks: “Losing My Mind” and “Not A Day Goes By,” and she gives thoughtful renditions of both.
But back to the duets. There’s giddy fan in both ‘The Best Thing That Happened To Me,” and “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better,’ and I am not even mad that they replaced the brilliant Irving Berlin lyrics in the latter with more topical ones. There’s a lot more of Barbra the actress in most of these tracks, and time will be the judge if I will tire of the spoken narrative scenes she inserts before the songs. And truth be told, a lot of the overblown production can be too much: can we really still believe she is Sheila in ‘At The Ballet’? And I cringe at the generic feel-good sentiments in ‘Pure Imagination,’ and especially ‘Climb Every Mountain,” which is my least favorite track in the album. But when she is on point, she is brill – She is a wonderful Fosca in ‘Loving You’ with Patrick Wilson and in ‘Take Me To The World,’ you can sense the entrapment of her feelings.
So there’s more to love than like here, even if I have to be honest, the voice really isn’t what it used to be. But at 74, she is still, as her cliche goes, like buttah. And Barbra the actress, she is here right now in this album, and for now, this is the best thing that happened to me.