by Steven Harband
What has Barbra delivered this time around? Since 1993, we’ve been “Back To Broadway”, to the church and synagogue (“Higher Ground”), to her wedding (“A Love Like Ours”), to the movies (“The Movie Album”), and to a reunion from the disco era (“Guilty Pleasures”). All of these were successful to a good degree, my least favorite being “A Love Like Ours”. With “Love Is The Answer”, Barbra returns to her performing roots to do mellow jazz, with Diana Krall as collaborator – not so different from the standards Barbra has always excelled at.
This is no earth-shaking release, but rather a collection of restrained, relaxed, very musical songs, like her “Third Album”. The Voice has deepened, and weakened a bit, but it still has that round, smooth quality. The person behind The Voice still sounds warm and wise, but a shade darker, intriguing simply because she is revealing yet another facet of herself. The arrangements are pretty basic, appropriate for this music. The sound is well-engineered, with the piano in particular coming alive. I don’t find that there is one standout track, but rather that the tracks are pretty evenly realized. But I do have my favorites. On “Gentle Rain” and “Love Dance”, the soft Latin rhythm and tinkling piano complement Barbra’s artistry very well. “A Time For Love” is filled with bright images, and in places the song reminds me of “All The Things You Are” from “Simply Streisand”. In “Here’s That Rainy Day” I like the expression of strength while recognizing and accepting the end of a romance. And then there’s “If You Go Away”, about which I will speak again.
I must say that some of the negative comments about this album puzzle me. First, there are those who expected it to sound like one of her 60’s albums. Hello? Then, many expected the album to be more “jazzy”. I wonder, are they confusing “jazz” with “swing”? I’ve always thought of the “jazz” genre as being very understated, subtle. You know, like Peggy Lee. In a similar vein, one commenter said there is “…not even one song with a beat.” Buying Barbra for “beats”? I recommend Madonna’s wonderful “Celebration” collection. Further, about Barbra’s French in “If You Go Away (Ne Me Quitte Pas)”, one said that it sounds absurd, while another said, “…her transition into French is so sudden it’s unintentionally funny.” Well, French was my college major, and it sounds OK to me, so, I don’t know, you be the judge. Frankly, I think her French adds to the poignancy of the sad song. Even her album cover was criticized, for being air-brushed! I think these expectations are a little demanding, even nit-picking, especially for a singer in her mid-60’s. Judging the album for what it is, just the next in a long string of beautiful presentations, not comparing it to past glories – on that basis, I think it works out fine.
Just one more thing. I listened to the entire CD for the first time tonight. “Funny Girl” happened to be on TCM. So, I was watching Barbra Past while listening to Barbra Present. Talk about a surrealistic experience!