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Barbra Streisand, May Your Gripping Vocals Never ‘Release Me’

For The Heights

Published: Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01

Barbra Streisand “messing up” in a recording studio is like an unblemished, wonderland of vibrato that swells into chilling whirls of pitch and style, while simultaneously warming your soul with the enchanting, potent poetry of the world’s creamiest, dreamiest hot cocoa. It’s like Christmas, or any other timeless and perfect, life-affirming festival of tinsel and light. Streisand’s latest album is comprised of just such outtakes—the oldest of which have remained vaulted up for over 44 years. I distinctly picture each cramped song shuffling about restlessly in Streisand’s pristine, 24-karat gold trash bin of gemlike mistakes crooning in Broadway style, “Please, Barbra, just release me already!” Appropriately enough, the album, released Oct. 9, 2012, is titled Release Me, and it contains 11 of these discarded vocal delights left over from past albums.


The first track, “Being Good Isn’t Good Enough,” underscores the vexing perfectionism that prevented these pieces from making the original cut. Due to the teeniest flaw in the vocal or the mix, Streisand had stowed them away, but now, at age 70, is accepting and open enough to heed the wisdom of hindsight and appreciate their worth. Recorded in 1985, this goose bump-inducing crescendo of a song from the musical Hallelujah, Baby!, as a result of whatever miniscule flaw it allegedly contains, didn’t make it onto The Broadway Album. In the song, Streisand blazingly delivers the lines, “Gotta fly and if I fall / That’s the way it’s gotta be / There’s no other way for me / Being good just won’t be good enough / I’ll be the best or nothing at all.” So, considering she is not exactly a vagabond living in obscurity, we are encouraged to conclude that this eight-time Grammy Award winner and only performer to have number one albums in five consecutive decades is, in fact, the best.


 Two tracks intended for the 1993 sequel to The Broadway Album (titled Back To Broadway), “Home” from The Wiz and “How Are Things In Glocca Morra? / Heather On The Hill” from Finian’s Rainbow / Brigadoon, are included among this careful selection of songs. “Home” rouses with a vigorous tension between utter control and dramatic release, while “How Are Things In Glocca Morra?,” arranged by Tony Award-winner Rupert Holmes, issues a dreamy cascading flurry of poetical lyrics carried by vocal prowess. Both are stirring reminders of why Streisand is one of the biggest voices in showbiz.


A particular highlight is the tender, achy Randy Newman song “I Think It’s Gonna Rain Today,” which was recorded in New York in 1971 during sessions for Streisand’s landmark album Stoney End. And after languishing in the private music vaults for years, this piece, with only Newman on piano for delicate, expressive accompaniment, is an exquisite example of Streisand’s natural, heart-swelling talent as an actress in song.


The earliest material, “Willow Weep For Me,” arranged by Ray Ellis, who is noted for his legendary work with Billie Holiday, was originally intended for the 1967 Simply Streisand. It boasts the sort of luscious, jazzily-orchestral backdrop that is so uncommon in the modern music industry.  “If It’s Meant to Be,” an inventive run-laden, one-take vocal written by her longtime friends and collaborators Alan and Marilyn Bergman, was recorded just last year. Although the recordings span four decades, they present a fantastic consistency in vocal tone, agility, and interpretative gifts, lending themselves as tribute to an unparalleled and truly dynamic career.


Release Me paints a magical—and if I may once again insist, Christmas-like—landscape of the varied pop scenes Streisand’s artistry and interest have graced over her 50-year career: from Broadway to A Star is Born to Jimmy Webb and Randy Newman, her professional landmarks are stunningly represented. Musing about the album, Streisand has said, “The thing I’m happiest about is that I still have great affection for all these songs. They appealed to me at the time … and still do. Listening now, I actually think to myself, ‘The girl wasn’t half bad.’”

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