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August 7, 2009

Something to cheer Streisand fans: new album of standards

For ardent Barbra Streisand fans -- count me among the most ardent -- the news of any fresh album always stirs interest and keen anticipation. When a new recording promises the kind of songs Streisand was born to sing, the excitement intensifies considerably. (I'm such a die-hard admirer that I think that she was even born to sing classical repertoire. Although my colleagues look at me like I've gone insane whenever I say this, there was a lot of good singing on Streisand's Classical Album. I simply would have chosen different material -- there's some lieder she could do fabulously, and I'm ready to serve as adviser anytime she wants.)  

You may have read about the surprising way Streisand plans to launch the new disc, Love is the Answer -- appearing, after an absence of nearly 50 years, at the Village Vanguard in New York, where she opened for Miles Davis (!!) in 1961. The coolest thing about this Sept. 26 gig is that we little people get to enter a drawing for free tickets. (I put my name in today, and I figure I'll have the same chance I do every time I play the lottery, which means I'll be sitting forlorn in Baltimore that night, dreaming of what it must be like for the lucky ones at the performance.)

What really has me geared up for the new recording is a) the very classy track list, and b) the fact that there will be a two-disc release of the material, one featuring Streisand with a four-piece jazz combo (including Diana Krall), the other with the same songs arranged for orchestra by veteran songwriter/arranger Johnny Mandel.

Streisand has done too little in the way of singing with minimal backup, so it's going to be great to hear her sing a whole album with ...

just piano, guitar, bass and drums. Some of my all time favorite performances of hers are those with keyboard only or a few instruments. "One Kiss," for example, is a pinnacle of her vocal art, and I think one big reason is the piano-and-cello arrangement, which allows for such an intimate experience.

So there's a lot to look forward to with Love is the Answer. I'm particularly anxious to hear how she interprets "Some Other Time," that sublime ballad from On the Town (there are quite a few other Bernstein songs I'd love to hear her sing). And "A Time for Love," which Tony Bennett did so superbly, has the kind of haunting melody that Streisand is bound to caress with great sensitivity. It will also be great to hear studio versions of songs she only performed in concert way back when -- "Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most" and the Sinatra-classic "In the Wee Small Hours."

Basically, I can't wait to hear all of this material. Judging by the repertoire, the musicians behind the recording, and the fact that Streisand, at 67, retains such an exquisitely burnished voice, this has the potential to be her most thoroughly satisfying release since The Broadway Album.

Here's the complete song list:

1. "Here's To Life" (Artie Butler/Phyllis Molinary)

2. "In The Wee Small Hours" (Bob Hilliard/David Mann)

3. "Gentle Rain" (Luiz Bonfa/Matt Dubey)

4. "If You Go Away" (Jacques Brel/Rod McKuen)

5. "Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most" (Tommy Wolf/Fran Landesman)

6. "Make Someone Happy" (Jule Styne/Betty Comden/Adolph Green)

7. "Where Do You Start?"(Johnny Mandel/Alan Bergman/Marilyn Bergman)

8. "A Time For Love" (Johnny Mandel/Paul Francis Webster)

9. "Here's That Rainy Day" (Johnny Burke/Jimmy Van Heusen)

10. "Love Dance" (Ivan Lins/Gilson Peranzzetta with English lyrics by Paul Williams)

11. "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" (Jerome Kern/Otto Harbach)

12. "Some Other Time" (Leonard Bernstein/Betty Comden/Adolph Green)

13. Bonus Track - "You Must Believe In Spring" (Michel Legrand/Alan & Marilyn Bergman)


Posted by Tim Smith at 2:03 PM | | Comments (10)


What a compliment to Streisand, coming from a classical music expert. But, she's always been the favorite of the greatest artists; Bernstein, Glenn Gould, Rogers, Styne, Arlen, Sondheim, etc. etc.

If I recall correctly, Gould expressed some interest in collaborating with Streisand on a classical album. What an amazing recording that would have been.TIM

I grew up listening to her albums. I knew every song from her first 2 albums in memory before I was 12!!! "What a lucky, lucky, lucky, lucky girl"...I was.

Say, your middle name isn't Rebecca, is it? TIM

I, too, am an ardent, longtime fan of Barbra's. The songlist alone is so exciting, particularly "Here's That Rainy Day", that I feel like a kid waiting for Christmas. This is great news and a great return for Barbra to the early singing style that made her famous. Few probably recall that Playboy once designated her as the best jazz artist of the year (1963 I believe.) Thanks for the great article.

Thanks for the thanks. TIM


Kudos on a great article. Barbra's version of "Letting Go" on the DVD version of "Guilty Pleasures" with only piano is absolutely stunning. If the quartet version of the album is half as good as this, it should be an unqualified smash!

And I should have mentioned her sublime performance of "If I Love Again" with piano. Has to rank with the finest examples of her vocal art. Again, I think amazing things can happen when she takes a less-is-more approach to accompaniment. Thanks for commenting. TIM

Glenn & Barbra: he probably would have driven her up the wall and through the ceiling... (And capturing _that_ on celluloid would have been priceless!)

My Mom loves Barbra, so I heard _plenty_ of the Great One's singing in my formative years. You could even say that I was, at times, over-saturated. ;^)

(My Grandma, who was not so fond of Streisand, called her "the fishwife." That was a little harsh, even at the highest volumes.)

I, too, especially enjoy her more soulful, intimate performances, and am _greatly_ looking forward to the "combo" disc. She would be _perfect_ for a whole host of lieder, actually, and would serve as a _very_ nice alternative to the usual blowhards. And we must not forget that Streisand is an excellent actress!

"Burnished" -- _perfect_ description!!!

I was an early fan when her voice was pristine and her persona was unaffected by attitude. Both aspects have changed. A classical repertory would not be possible given changes in her register over the years. There is only so much sound technicians can do to refine a voice.

Thanks for commenting. I think there's still a lot of great vocal equipment left, and there is plenty of low-register music to explore. BTW, I'm not suggesting that she ever try to sing like someone classically trained. TIM

I can't believe you censor comments. Do you not allow any critical comments about Streisand's current vocal prowess?

No censorship here. It's just that the newspaper rules call for me to publish each comment myself and, strange as it may seem, I have a life -- and that means I am sometimes away from a computer for long stretches of time. So fire away. TS

I have loved Streisand for years, yet have not been truly sure of her committment to making great records for a decade or so......until now. Everything suggests a record that will be played for years to come. Thanks Barbra for finally realising where your genius lies.

Hey Tim. I can pretty much assure you that like me, you will be sitting at home in Baltimore on September 26th. Why you ask? Because the fine print on that contest says Maryland is excluded. (Though it didn't stop me from trying as well).

PS, the wait for this disc has been torture.

Say not so!! What the hell did Maryland ever do to anybody? Damn. Maybe I can change addresses and start all over. TIM

Have you heard the entire Here's To Life?

I'm interested on your opinion

To me, it's simply wonderful. Pure velvet! She uses and control all her skills and experience to make a piece of sublime beauty.

Haven't heard it yet, but now you've got me all a-quiver. TIM

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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