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A diva gets stuck in the slow lane

Barbra Streisand

“Guilty Pleasures”

(Columbia Records)

* * 1/2

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A quarter-century after teaming up for their Grammy-winning “Guilty” album, those musically strange bedfellows Barbra Streisand and Barry Gibb are together again, taking a something-for-everyone approach that works quite well ... sometimes.

Gibb co-produced (with John Merchant) and co-wrote all 11 songs on “Guilty Pleasures,” which takes Streisand from Sade-like world pop to Madonna-Mariah dance-floor territory to theatrical pop ballads. But if a song is the singer’s vehicle, a lot of these create the impression of Dale Earnhardt Jr. trapped behind the wheel of a Ford Escort.

Streisand’s magnificent instrument cries out for long stretches of road on which it can truly open up, and the conventional pop song form in which Gibb is most at home as a writer rarely gives her the long melodic straightaways and gentle curves to show us what she’s truly capable of.

“Without Your Love” is more of a Broadway-type ballad that meets her on her level, a eulogy for a faded love affair from which she wrings buckets of emotion. Her duets with Gibb, “Come Tomorrow” and “Above the Law,” live up to the album’s title, melding their distinctly disparate voices and styles expertly.

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Several songs explore missed opportunities in the land of love, and there’s some sense of a missed opportunity in this effort as well, one that might have been rectified with less energy expended on varied beats, tempos and textures and more on emotional payoff.

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). Albums reviewed are in stores today.


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