The prospect of a collection of new recordings from Barbra Streisand creates equal measures of excitement and terror. To call her output "erratic" is an understatement - from the brilliance of her disco work with Barry Gibb and The Broadway Album
to the sheer horror of a duet with Celine Dion. Like Dion, Streisand has a voice that is a force of nature, powerful but like buttah - unlike Dion, Streisand manages to use her extraordinary instrument for good instead of evil at least once an album. Even a dud like Till I Loved You
contained a Quincy Jones collaboration, "The Places You Find Love," that is so delightfully over-the-top that it balances out the misfire of duetting with then boy-toy Don Johnson.
Streisand is one of the divas that have endured - to paraphrase: first an ugly duckling, then "a sloe-eyed vamp, then someone's mother, then you're camp." No wonder we gays love her - conquering the odds and transforming into the fabulous creature she was always determined to be. And occasionally condescending to let us know that she was in on the joke while she tackled every musical genre - usually with at least some sonic pleasure resulting - in a continual quest to stay relevant. But now, three one-time-only farewell tours later, she has settled into a mellow middle ground of good taste - for some it will be background music, for others as welcoming as a warm bath.
is classic Babs with gorgeous vocals wrapped around some well-chosen melodies. "Didn't We" and "Being Good Enough Isn't Good Enough" are vintage sounding tunes that let Streisand show off her voice and dubious dramatic talents. The simple piano backing track on "I Think It's Going To Rain Today" is startling and Streisand shines in a understated performance. Unfortunately Streisand has picked up one of Janet Jackson's nasty habits and inserts bits of chatter between the tracks. The banter with the producers and musicians is pointless and beneath a diva of this magnitude - at least she has the gossipy good taste to include the pianist on "I Think It's Going To Rain Today" admitting that la Streisand's take on the arrangement just might be right - a fact she confirms it at the end. The remake of "With One More Look At You" from A Star Is Born
is an exercise in nostalgia and while the years have not dimmed her voice in the least - and sadly the sky-high afro is long gone - there is nothing added to this version to provide any insight or joy; Streisand is almost always more fun playing a diva, a rock star or a disco babe than a tasteful interpreter.
The best is saved for last with a cover of "Home" from The Wiz
. It doesn't erase memories of Stephanie Mills but it certainly mops the floor with Miss Ross. The track begins with Streisand laughing that she does want to go home. And she certainly does - a full orchestra, a discoey beat and a soaring melody that she rides over the key changes to the long sustained note that drives it home. When she puts her heart and soul into it no-one can touch this diva.
Release Me is available everywhere on Tues, Oct 9 and Barbra Streisand plays the Air Canada Centre on Tues, Oct 23.