I have been listening to Barbra Streisand since I was a kid, and I will probably listen to her songs on my deathbed. So it won't be a big surprise when I say I love her new album, "What Matters Most." But how do I love it? Let me count the ways. First of all, gone are the dulcet hues of her young voice. The woman singing here is older, wiser, and well, the keys are much lower. I think finally she is sinking into her "new voice." She is embracing it more, she isn't as straining as in her last album, I feel more confidence from her. Her voice is now more rich mahogany than a chirpy yellow, and at almost 70 years of age, it is pure buttered fine wine. Like Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan in their latter years, there is more emphasis on emotional attachment to the lyrics than technical perfection. Whereas before, she had a voice of a superhuman, nowadays she just sounds more human, who just happens to be super. She starts the album with a quiet bang: singing an acapella intro to "The Windmills Of Your Mins," and it's breathtaking. It's dramatic, it's dynamic, it's acting, it's singing. The best tracks are the ones that soar, thanks to expansive arrangements by Bill Ross. "I'll Never Say Goodbye," at first sounds familiar, but then a little sigh here, a muffled laugh there, and the song has suddenly become Barbra-ized and you will forever never hear it the same way again. Sure, the arrangements may veer towards sameness, so it may be best to listen to songs out of album succession. The tempo picks up on Sinatra's iconic "Nice And Easy," and Barbra has a chance to sound sultry. She even sings Portuguese on "So Many Stars," just for variety. "Something New In My Life" is served well by her, although I have a particular dislike for that song ever since it was used heavily in a recent turgid of a movie. But as the album ends and lingers through "What Matters Most," you find that in the course of listening to he album, you not only heard music, but felt emotions: happiness, melancholy, sorry, grateful. Only few singers in the world have that gift (another one that comes to mind is The One And Only Superstar Nora Aunor) and we all just has to thank The Universe that we were here to witness them.
I leave with what Alan and Marilyn Bergman wrote about Ms. Barbra Streisand:
To hear Barbra Streisand sing a song we've written is to know why we chose to become writers.
She always gets exactly what we mean in a lyric. And more. The actor that she is, the director that she is, the singer that she is gets it. And more. Shadings, feelings, nuances emerge that never fail to surprise and thrill us. How do you sing a question mark? A smile? How do you sing the text and sub-text of a song while never sacrificing musicality for meaning or meaning for musicality? Never choosing style over substance or substance over style?