Fall 2009

Brilliant "Answer"

Barbra Streisand: Love Is The Answer
Columbia Records
Produced by Diana Krall & Tommy LiPuma
Arranged by Johnny Mandel
Released September 29, 2009

In an era when it seems that everyone who has even moderate success in the arts is placed upon a pedestal and labeled a diva, it would be difficult to overlook an artist who has remained on top for nearly a half century. Barbra Streisand's latest album, entitled “Love Is The Answer,” is a beautiful return to her recording excellence that was so consistent in the first two decades of her career, beginning in 1963. For this album, the duties were handed over to the more-than-capable hands of Grammy Award-winning artist Diana Krall (who is remarkably making her debut as a producer) with arrangements by Grammy Award-winning musician and songwriter Johnny Mandel.

The album is extraordinary and carries only a couple of missteps. Interestingly enough, the missteps are (of course) subjective, considering everyone will take something different away from each song, as certain songs and arrangements will always carry more weight with a diversified audience. That's just the way art goes.

The album begins with the Shirley Horn staple “Here’s To Life” and seamlessly glides into the world of melancholy bliss with an exquisite rendition of “In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning.” "Gentle Rain" is the third track, which is gorgeously subdued. The Mandel arrangement and Streisand’s vocal, along with Krall’s piano, make a splendid ménage a trios.

Track #4 is when the album takes a sharp turn and blossoms into ultimate art. "If You Go Away (Ne Me Quitte Pas)" is simply the finest performance on the album – no bones about it. Judging from her interpretation of this Jacques Brel/Rod McKuen piece, this is a throwback to her Je m'appelle Barbra days of the mid-60's and undoubtedly brought back "the actress that sings." Perfection.

I found myself really enjoying "Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most," and I did rather well not making comparisons to her earlier live recording because this was flawless until a very brief and odd change-up of arrangement that came in halfway through the song. It became oddly bouncy for a brief period, which threw the mood of the piece. The original arrangement returned and all was well with "Spring." The brief intrusion was minor and the only part of the track that hung me up.

The famous standard "Make Someone Happy" and the  Alan & Marilyn Bergman/Johnny Mandel composition "Where Do You Start?" are absolutely flawless in arrangement and vocal. They shine.

"A Time for Love" is a stunning vocal of the Johnny Mandel/Paul Francis Webster composition. This is another perfect example where one gets lost in the drama due to Streisand's unique brand of singing a story to the point of actually visualizing the setting.

The Sinatra staple "Here's That Rainy Day" sounds as if it could have been written for Streisand. The Jimmy Van Heusen/Johnny Burke composition is one of the most gorgeous songs ever written. Now with Streisand's interpretation on record, "Rainy Day" has a place in history that is watertight.

"Love Dance" is a pretty composition by Gilson Peranzzetta, Ivan Lins and Paul Williams, but I would have reduced its nearly five-minute arrangement down to a respectable three and a half minutes. After a while, the song begins to drone and gives the feeling it has nowhere to go. Perhaps that's why the song fades instead of having an ending as most standards do. Don't misunderstand my critique, the vocal is top-notch, it's just that the melody (or lack of) becomes a tad monotonous.

"Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" is a welcomed song – maybe because of its popularity, maybe because of the sensationally unique reading, maybe both. It works and nothing makes me happier than to hear Barbra improve on a song that became a pop staple a half-century earlier for another artist. The arrangement and vocals are superb and breathes new life, as Streisand exhales this "smoke" brilliantly.

"Some Other Time" is a magnificent arrangement. Diana and her piano shine so beautifully and her tinkling of the ivories is perfectly suited to Barbra's superb vocals. They're as smooth as silk. The marriage of melody and vocals are extraordinarily matched.

The Alan & Marilyn Bergman/Michel Legrand song "You Must Believe In Spring" is worth the extra $$ for those who purchase the "Deluxe Edition" of this album. It is billed as the "Bonus Track." It has no strings, it has no bass, and it has no snare drum effect. What it does have is what Barbra has always thrived on, a simple piano arrangement and her naked vocal. Truth be told, for a "bonus" I may have picked a more familiar song that would've appealed a bit more to the masses, but when you have just Barbra alone with a piano, any song is a bonus.

Is this a perfect album? No. Is it a work of art that belongs in the chosen few of Barbra's most brilliant work? Yes!

For the anal-retentive naysayer, they will experience the infrequent rasps throughout most of the 13 tracks. To the Barbra enthusiast and to all with an ear for something extraordinary, this album exudes the same labor of love not heard since Streisand poured her heart & soul into 1985's The Broadway Album.

Hats off to Diana Krall for paring down Barbra's usually overproduced arrangements of late, and restraining her vocals to compliment the album's simplicity, which resulted in its excellence. Krall's production value alone deserves the first of many Grammy Awards this album should and will be honored with.

After many years of waiting for another Streisand masterpiece, it's easy for me to say that the title Love Is The Answer could have easily been titled Krall Is The Answer.

Four And A Half of Five Stars

The “Deluxe Edition” of this album consists of two discs. Disc #1 is the above reviewed with full orchestrations and a “Bonus Track,” and Disc #2 has the same tracks with slightly different vocals, pared-down with a simple jazz quartet. Both versions are stunning and it is economically sensible to purchase the “Deluxe Edition.”

FOOTNOTE: Barbra Streisand began her career on the gay club-circuit in New York’s Greenwich Village when she won a singing contest at the gay club The Lion on June 6, 1960. From there she wowed audiences at another Village haunt, The Bon Soir, through 1962. Streisand opened for jazz great Miles Davis at The Village Vanguard in 1961. On September 26, 2009, she returned to the Vanguard (capacity approx. 100) to perform several tracks from Love Is The Answer as well as some earlier songs, to rave reviews.

© 2009 Steven M. Housman. All Rights Reserved.