What Matters Most
Streisand's most emotional album
What matters most - for Streisand fans worldwide -is that she remains, after 50 years, the singing goddess.Her newest album provides the audible proof:
Barbra at 69 still sings supernaturally beautifully. Who else in pop and chanson with her singing voice could tell so vividly, whisper so tenderly, so intimately evoke the happiness of past love, that the audience believes that at the end that they have listened to a prayer instead of a song?
I feel Streisand's new CD "What Matters Most" is her most"emotional" work ever, which means something when one considers her 60+ albums. This assessment is consistent with the opinions of Streisand fans I know and those in various net forums. It seems for the first time there is almost total agreement about a new Streisand album. (I distinctly remember the controversial movie album, and "Guilty Pleasures", her second album with Barry Gibb which not every Streisand fan likes).
Meanwhile, we are accustomed to her "new" voice - which is now darker and warmer, and sounds "almost" more beautiful (not better!) than ever before ( No, I do not hide my euphoria....) But during loud passages, she can not hide the effort . Hoarse sounds are sometimes heard, even more on the previous album "Love Is The Answer".
But now I know, after repeatedly listening to her brand new album that Barbra has obviously regained some of her dynamic and wide notes - and the raspy or rough notes are far less than in "Love Is The Answer." (Joy!!!!)
"What Matters Most" is purely a "tribute album" to her friends, dedicated to the movie writers and composers couple Alan and Marilyn Bergman. They have known each other since the early sixties, and they have worked together in small and large-scale projects such as Yentl. The strong personal relationships – their great friendship - may have contributed to ensure that Barbra is emotionally motivated with these ten highly melodic, never before sung songs by the Bergmans, and especially that her unmatched vocal artistry spreads fully in all facets.
There is no restraint! What could be slightly embarrassing for a voice not as good as Streisand’s may here be enjoyed because of her vocal skill and depth of expression! Again the contents are the most basic human emotions: love, friendship, relationships, loneliness, longings, dreams and memories.
The Bergmans are great lyricists who create their texts like a painting in pastel shades. Romance, references to nature and melancholy meet in sensitive ways in their songs. Still, there is Streisand's great gift to convey with her wonderful voice, her great empathy and not least her intelligence, the special vision of the composer and lyricist. She gives these visions existence, and fortunately they are still available through a variety of CDs.
Composers like Sondheim, Jule Styne, and Legrand know why they sing songs of praise about Barbra. They know that Barbra Streisand brings her distinctive interpretation of each of their songs to the highest level.
So "What Matters Most" with unfortunately only ten both lyrically and compositionally great songs, becomes an album of truly sensational quality. More musically versatile than her last album, there are also ballads alongside gentle Bossa Novas (“So Many Stars”, “Solitary Moon”) and swinging songs (“Nice 'n Easy”, “That Face”.)
The big surprise for me is the song "That Face" (Lew Spence) where Barbra swings with a freshness like in the sixties, like I remember in "You're The Top" from the movie "What's Up Doc" or "You Wanna Bet".
After a slow intro she increases more and more and in the second part of the song she has really powerful notes that can withstand the fantastic Big Band. Notes that you have not heard from her for so long. (A whole Streisand swing album could be a masterpiece again!)
"Nice 'n Easy" (Lew Spence), the famous Sinatra swing number, sounds subdued, but elegant and charming. Yes, it still swings, but in a prolonged fashion. Its ravishing how Streisand celebrates here the swing style in "slow motion". Of the two bossa nova songs I consider "Solitary Moon", composed by Johnny Mandel, as successful as "So Many Stars."
Sergio Mendes). Her voice is like "floating magic". The saxophone solo by Dan Higgins fits in perfectly with the sensuous melody.
This time you can distribute only high praise for the arrangements of the album by William A. Ross. Streisand has probably pulled ashore the best for her arranger. His grade had already proved successful in her major concert tour in 2006/2007. Where the movie album is a huge orchestra played slowly, sluggishly and without impulse, the arrangements of the new album are set much more specifically for the composition. Even if the violins in the ballads revel compactly it is much more coherent and sophisticated.
Barbra loves after all those symphonic orchestral sounds - and it seems that this time her voice blends perfectly with the orchestra. Because nothing sounds flabby and tired: the ballads get momentum, dynamism and an aria moderate intensity. Bill Ross has also worked with the trumpet solo by Chris Botti on "Alone In The World" and "Nice 'n Easy” gives stimulating bar jazz accents to the sound of the album.
The most famous song of the CD is Michel Legrand song "The Windmills Of Your Mind". There are innumerable versions of this title , but we definitely remember the great version of Dusty Springfield. When you listen now to Barbra Streisand, who sings the song at the beginning a capella, you feel a very different, much more serious impression.
What was a beautiful pop ballad with Dusty is in Barbra's version an art song, unaffected, simple, and clear. Just like how Barbra sings - naturally and instinctively. Straight. When her voice fades away with the last note, and the orchestra strings slowly creeps with the sad sound of a cello from the song, you know that the song was has never been heard before so seriously in all its significance.
Yes, this is in a minor key and it sounds sad. And then there is definitely – apart from the two big band tracks – great seriousness and especially melancholy in all the songs - lyrically and compositionally. I have mentioned that one has the impression in some songs that one is listening to a prayer. In a special way that is so with Jerry Goldsmith's song "Alone In The World". Barbra sings it with intimacy, clarity and great intensity - no one could do it better. This song is one of my absolute favorites of the CD.
But actually every song on this album is a masterpiece in itself. I include the essential Legrand's "Something New In My Life." Apart from how Barbra recites the lyrics in sublime fashion, it is always amazing how clean her intonation is, untouchable - and how exactly she sings every note. Barbra, if she likes a song, has great reverence for every note the composer wrote.
Barbra usually does not chance a note of a song - what other great vocalists do sometimes. That's actually also an expression of musical creativity.
Barbra does not improvise -she allows the compositions their own life.
This we could perhaps find "boring" - but it's always fascinating when Barbra sings a familiar song for the first time. Then it is as if we hear just NOW- for the first time - the real beauty of the melody! Because Barbra's singing respects fully and completely its compositional substance.
Barbra Streisand is and remains unmatched in her voice, her musicianship, her phrasing and her instinct; she makes new songs her own songs. I can only hope that lovers of great voices and sophisticated songs outside the Streisand-League will find and buy this CD!