Kevin Mazur/Getty Images; Gilbert Carrasquillo/FilmMagic.com
August 26, 2016 at 05:05 PM EDT
We gave it a B

Divas demand encores—Barbra Streisand and Celine Dion know that. On new albums, both released the same day, two of the biggest voices in pop have stuck that word right in their album titles. But in an era when the D-word might conjure images of Beyoncé or Adele, these two stars are proving they still deserve a place on the stage.

Streisand and Dion’s latest efforts find both stars looking back. On ENCORE: Movie Partners Sing Broadway, Streisand is reflecting on her Broadway roots, but with fresh perspective. The 74-year-old delivers 10 tracks performed with movie stars like Anne Hathaway, Hugh Jackman, and Antonio Banderas. With Encore un Soir, meanwhile, Dion is hitting a somber note: The title refers to the memories stirred by the loss of her husband, René Angélil, and her brother Daniel—both of whom died from cancer this year. And the 48-year-old underscores the familial bond with her first album in four years that’s sung entirely in her native French.

Throughout her nearly six-decade career, Streisand has always been a tricky collaborator; compared with Babs’ outsize voice, everyone sounds small. Such was the case with her 2014 No. 1 record, Partners, where she also performed alongside a top roster of stars. But ENCORE is a more satisfying listen: With high notes now out of her reach and her vocal sustain more contained, Streisand has become easier to sing with, and she strikes a deep rapport with actors like Hugh Jackman and a surprisingly strong Chris Pine. There are moments that bomb: On “Anything You Can Do,” from Irving Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun, Streisand and Melissa McCarthy update the tune to reflect their own lives. (“Can I call you Babs now?” asks McCarthy. “No,” says Streisand. “Too soon!”) It’s edgeless and self-indulgent. But when Streisand duets with her male counterparts—the better to exploit her gift for playing a pining lover—she glows. She has real chemistry with Pine on “I’ll Be Seeing You,” aided by his jazzy phrasing, and with Jamie Foxx, who adds soul to “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” and meets Streisand at the song’s peak.

No stranger to bravura flourishes herself, Dion purposely selected “uplifting themes” for her album. Yet the best tracks here are the ones that express her pain. On “Les Yeux au Ciel” (“Eyes Toward the Sky”), Dion sings of a godless firmament, while on the title track, she philosophizes about the moments we waste in denial of death. Dion may have one of music’s most bombastic voices, but for her French-language albums, she brings nuance. Amid some lingering overkill, Dion finds a rare acoustic intimacy on “Plus Qu’ailleurs.” Better, on the Quebecois classic “Ordinaire,” she inhabits the lyric with a defiance that makes you wish she’d sideline her usual Titanic blowouts and opt for more gorgeous encores like this. ENCORE: B Encore un Soir: B

BEST TRACKS

“At the Ballet”

Streisand nails the Chorus Line tune with Anne Hathaway and Daisy Ridley

“Loving You”

Streisand and Patrick Wilson capture the frustration of a ruined romance

“Encore un Soir”

For Dion, heartbreak has never sounded so stunning

“Ordinaire”

Dion’s most soulful performance on the album

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