Before Gaga, Kylie, Celine or even Madonna, there was Barbra Streisand. There are few that haven’t hear about this alive music legend, recognized as one of the most beautiful voices of pop music, and certainly adopted as a gay icon since early in her career, even when she hasn’t sing any song directly targeted to the LGBT community.
She is one of the dearest singers of the old gay generation, and even to some of the younger ones. Perhaps is her beginnings on the gay cabaret in venues as the Lion Club in New York, perhaps it’s her legendary musicals as Hello Dolly or Cats, perhaps that she was an “ugly girl” that shine for her internal charm instead of her exterior, or perhaps is that there’s something dramatic, melancholic and deeply emotional in the songs she choose to sing. Whatever it is, the fact remains that Barbra is not only a huge successful phenomena of the popular music in general, she also has win a special place in the LGBT community in particular.
In Her new album, What matter most , Barbra sings the lyrics of Alan and Marilyn Bergman, which have being long time collaborators on her career, with top hits as The way we were, You don’t bring me flowers or Papa can you hear me? It’s a retrospective album, but instead of just recording again her old songs, or just remaster them and deliver a “best of” Barbra goes back to the type of songs that made her famous, they are not new songs, but they have never being recorded by Streisand before, and she knows her market and the songs the public is interested to hear from her.And even now, aged 69, she keeps amazing us with new songs, and her beautiful voice. Granted, she doesn’t have the wide range that she was used to have, but I can’t think of many singers that have keep a strong singing voice so close to their 70s.
The album opens with a nice a cappella of The windmill of your Mind, music by Michel Legrand (from the 1968 film The Thomas Crown Affair) delivering us the strong and melodic musical phrases that we are expecting from her, gradually moving some instrumentation in, and showing Streisand’s trademark sustained vocal lines which makes the lyricism of the song quite remarkable. Giving room to another Legrand’s song, less famous but also a powerful ballad that grows little by little.
Then we have some slow jazz ballad, Solitary moon, that serves as an opening to the well known Nice n’ Easy, this swing jazzy theme that was made famous by Frank Sinatra, capturing the atmosphere of a small bar of the beginning of the 20th century 60s with a sound production of the 10s of the century after, the same can be said of So many stars, Sergio Mendes’ bossa nova.
Alone in this world and I’ll Never Say Goodbye are other slow themes, beautifully orchestrated that meld around the feeling of the album, but without being remarkable outstanding
The Same Hello, The Same Goodbye, music by John Williams, starting with just Barbra and a piano, give us the feeling that Williams and the Bergmans should have give to Frank Sinatra, for whom this song was written for and that was reported to have brought him to tears when he first listen to it, even when he never was able to record the song itself. There’s the musical cinematic signature that John Williams gives to his pieces, on which Streisand voice fits in so well.
That Face give us back to the swing and jazz themes, the song originally made famous by Fred Astaire, it’s a more up to tempo jazz piece, for the Big Band era in contrast of the intimate of Nice n’ Easy or So many stars, that opens us to the big theatrical spectacle that this genre delivered.
What Matters Most, the closing theme of the album, give us a very melancholic feeling, with beautiful lyrics and expressive orchestration that relies on the strings to lead us in the interlude and the piano on the verses. Slowly closing a very enjoyable album with old songs made anew, in Barbra’s voice that is still strong and much alive.