HER NEW AL­BUM IS A CLASS ACT

Streisand’s al­bum of stan­dards con­firms her as the last of the great bal­ladeers, says Paul Lester

The Jewish Chronicle - - Front Page -

BAR­BRA Love Is The An­swer Sony Mu­sic WITH 140 mil­lion records sol, Bar­bra Streisand is the world’s most pop­u­lar Jewish en­ter­tainer. She is also ar­guably the most pop­u­lar en­ter­tainer among the world’s Jews. For a gen­er­a­tion of a cer­tain age she is un­ques­tion­ably the last word in class and so­phis­ti­ca­tion, and she has en­dured be­cause she has con­tin­ued to release mu­sic of qual­ity and dis­tinc­tion without pan­der­ing to trends. Any­one ex­pect­ing an al­bum of high-tech R&B should prob­a­bly alight here.

Streisand is her own mar­ket force — Love Is The An­swer, her 32nd stu­dio al­bum in a record­ing ca­reer that reaches back to 1963, fea­tures just her first name on the cover above the ti­tle, but it could just as eas­ily have been her sur­name only. None of to­day’s artists — not even Madonna, Brit­ney or Bey­oncé — could get away with that. Would you rush out to buy a CD bear­ing the moniker Cic­cone? You would have no idea what you were get­ting.

You know what you are get­ting when you buy a Streisand LP, and Love Is The An­swer does not dis­ap­point in that re­spect — it is re­as­sur­ingly fa­mil­iar while be­ing enough of a de­par­ture to war­rant pur­chase. It is an al­bum of jazz stan­dards pro­duced by Diana Krall, the con­tem­po­rary jazz mu­si­cian (and wife of Elvis Costello), and so, in a sense, it has one foot in the past and an­other in the present, with po­ten­tial ap­peal to both young and old.

The al­bum comes as a two-disc set, with the same songs on each, in the ex­act same se­quence, only with dif­fer­ent treat­ments.

On the first CD, the songs — ev­er­green clas­sics such as In The Wee Small Hours, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, and Some Other Time from the mu­si­cal On The Town — are af­forded dis­creet, el­e­gant orches­tral ar­range­ments by Johnny Mandel, who has worked with every­one from Count Basie to Frank Si­na­tra, with a lit­tle help from younger ar­rangers William Ross and An­thony Wil­son, an up-and-com­ing jazz com­poser.

The sec­ond CD fea­tures quar­tet ver­sions of the tracks, stripped down to a pi­ano and gui­tar, bass and drums ac­com­pa­ni­ment, on which Streisand, al­ready up close and con­ver­sa­tional, achieves a de­light­ful warmth and in­ti­macy.

The com­poser cred­its read like a who’s-who of 20th-cen­tury song­writ­ing leg­ends: Jerome Kern, Leonard Bern­stein, Jule Styne, Jac­ques Brel, Michel Le­grand… The al­bum was recorded at the fa­mous Capi­tol Tower, a venue syn­ony­mous with artists such as Nat King Cole, Peggy Lee and Frank Si­na­tra. In fact, it is the mem­ory of Si­na­tra’s vaunted late-’50s al­bums of me­lan­choly, lovelorn bal­lads for the Capi­tol la­bel that is most ob­vi­ously evoked here.

Without forc­ing the point, what Love Is The An­swer does is re­mind lis­ten­ers that Streisand is the last in that lin­eage of post-war stylists who took the best songs of their era and made them their own. By re­vis­it­ing th­ese stan­dards, pre­vi­ously sung by Si­na­tra, Ella Fitzger­ald and Peggy Lee, she picks up the torch from the all-time great torch singers.

A bit like the re­cent LP col­lab­o­ra­tions be­tween Neil Di­a­mond and hip hop/heavy metal pro­ducer Rick Ru­bin, which reaf­firmed Di­a­mond’s worth by re­mov­ing all ves­tiges of show­biz glitz and camp, on Love Is The An­swer pro­ducer Krall takes Streisand back to her roots so that she might make sense to a young au­di­ence. It is less a rein­ven­tion, more a re­state­ment of first prin­ci­ples.

And she goes all the way back — Spring Can Re­ally Hang You Up The Most is a song that Streisand first sang when she was 18. But un­like the lat­ter­day work of, say, Judy Gar­land, with Streisand you never get the sense of an artist in de­cline. There is pathos here, but she is never pa­thetic; even the clos­est mi­cro­phone work re­veals a woman who has lived life, but not been rav­aged by it.

As ever, you are star­tled by the clar­ity of her vo­cals and the rich­ness of her tone. Her lower reg­is­ter is per­haps mel­lower, but that has given her an even greater res­o­nance. Streisand has clearly taken care of her voice dur­ing her 50-year ca­reer. But then, that is pre­cisely why she has lasted. She has never suc­cumbed to the usual show­busi­ness temp­ta­tions.

What is re­as­sur­ing about Streisand is her com­fort­ing lack of dar­ing. She was al­ways too much of a pro­fes­sional to risk it all then, and she is not about to do so now.

PHOTO: AP

Who needs edgi­ness? Streisand is re­as­sur­ing fare for her mil­lions of fans

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