End of the Semester

My first semester back to school has, mercifully, come to an end. Finals are done and now the waiting game for grades begins. As per usual, I have decided to keep blogging and continuing to shower love on my WordPress. I’m actually glad one of my classes required use of a blog, it gave me a great excuse to use this with some regularity.

As I was syncing more music to my iPod Classic, I came across this article from The Guardian

Thanks to Apple killing off the absoulutely wonderful iPod Classic, (which held anywhere between 80 and 160GB of music, video or photos) fans all over the world are paying inflated prices now, as iPod become gold dust.

According to writer, Paul Gallagher, “After Apple quietly pulled the Classic from its website, chief executive Tim Cook said the company no longer had access to the components and a redesign would have been too demanding.” Now I call bullshit on this, why would Apple decide to pull the plug on one of its most successful products and I highly doubt a redesign would be “too demanding.” Quite personally, I think the whole too demanding bit is just code for, “We’re lazy and we’re just going to keep pushing out lousy iPhones.”

Now with iPod being snatched up, it’s only a matter of time before ifixit.com runs of replacement parts for the iPod, so when it breaks you can put in a new screen or hard drive.

With Neil Young’s Pono Music player shipping out in the first quarter of 2015, with the ability to play FLAC files, I truly think Apple is missing the mark big time. They could make a killing redesigning the iPod and pairing it with Beats Headphones, I mean come on that’s a nobrainer.

I really like what Brian Ives of Radio.com writes, “But the company may have jumped the gun by pulling the plug, as it were, on the device that arguably both changed the music industry and saved Apple.” – It doesn’t make sense, why would you stop production on a product that SAVED your company.

I really want a Pono Music Player, the look so cool! That would be an ideal Christmas present, if anyone is at all keen in getting me a present *hint, hint.*

NEW MUSIC

DAME SHIRLEY BASSEY is coming out with a new album on the 17th! The album entitled, Hello Like Before is her first new album in five years! I was watching Graham Norton this evening and she announced that along with doing Strictly Come Dancing and the 2014 Royal Variety Show, she is coming out with a new album!

My jaw hit the floor, seriously! I have loved Dame Shirley for years and years!

If you don’t know who Dame Shirley Bassey is, I feel so sorry for you.

Christmas Music in October

I have never fully understood why record labels insist on releasing Christmas music in October. Most people aren’t even finished decorating their houses for Halloween by the time holiday music hits the stores. These days, holiday music is being pushed earlier and earlier. Stores are juxtaposing Halloween Decor with Christmas trees, it is just strange – especially at Cracker Barrel!

Thankfully I just read an article from The Atlantic that puts my mind at ease. Kevin O’Keefe’s article makes me seriously want to pull out all of my Christmas albums early. His article is charming nonetheless, even if it is also a plug for Idina Menzel’s album, Holiday Wishes which is out now.

I particularly like O’Keefe’s comment explaining why someone might want to listen to a particular song or album, “…I wanted to be transported back to the time (and, more specifically, to the feelings I had at the time) when that record was released. The same goes for Christmas music: It may not yet be the designated season, but what’s wrong with getting excited for hot chocolate and warm holiday tidings?”

Christmas Music holds a very special place in my heart.

For years my mother would play various albums from Hallmark Cards during the holiday season. At one time the card company offered a holiday album, exclusively made by Carter Companies, if you bought three or more holiday cards. From 1985 until around 2007, Hallmark made it an annual traditional to promote their Christmas album early. Back in 2008, I remember purchasing a very rare CD copy of their 1987 holiday album, Songs For The Holidays, which featured opera stars Peter Hofmann, Deborah Sasson, and the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. Hallmark’s1990 offering with Julie Andrews entitled The Sounds of Christmas, which capitalized on her 1987 television Christmas special of the same name, is another favorite of mine.

I think it’s appropriate to end with another quote from O’Keefe, “Getting people thinking about Christmas as early as possible is to stores’ benefit—but not at the expense of Halloween merchandise. So October is a safe haven for those annoyed by unseasonal Christmas tunes. In early November, best to just pack earbuds.” Music for me is a stress reliever and I personally find Christmas music uplifting and helpful, especially when I am stressed out.

So what if it’s released before Halloween? The more, the merrier (no pun intended).

Barbra Streisand, Partners (2014)

Barbra Streisand, Partners (Columbia 2014)

Barbra’s thirty-fourth album, Partners, is not only brilliantly and cohesively produced by Babyface and Walter Afanasieff, but the pairings or rather “partners” on this record are superb! From Michael Bublé, John Mayer, John Legend and even her own son, Jason Gould, the album shimmers and confirms that even at 72, Streisand’s voice is still stellar! Definite highlights include: “It Had To Be You” (Bublé) “Come Rain or Come Shine (Mayer) “Evergreen” (Babyface) “The Way We Were” (Richie) and, of course, “How Deep is the Ocean” (Gould). This album proves what we have known about Barbra Streisand from the word Go: she is a musical genius.

Streisand’s appearance on Tonight Show last night was a truly “Must See TV.” From her charming medley with Jimmy Fallon, who filled in for Elvis, Blake Shelton, and Michael Bublé was not only delightful but so cute to watch. It is so obvious that Fallon is a Streisand fanboy, he even let her sit behind the host desk.

Her appearance even exploded all over twitter

https://twitter.com/benj_michael/status/511737780045873152

I cannot get over “It Had To Be You” “Evergreen” “Come Rain or Come Shine” and “The Way We Were.” I know these will be on repeat for days. 

I totally hope this album rockets to #1 on the charts!!!

BARBRA and Media

BARBRA!
Screen capture from Sirius.com

So if you’ve been reading any of my posts from 2012 you know, or should know by now, that I love all things STREISAND related. Next week, the legendary Streisand releases a brand new album entitled Partners, featuring 12 new recordings featuring the greatest male vocalists! By male vocalists I mean Josh Groban, John Mayer, John Legend, Lionel Richie, et al. Also she’s getting her own Sirius XM channel starting at 5pm this evening and running, for a special limited engagement, until October 10th!

Featured on Sirius Channel 69 “Escape,” Streisand’ s show will include a Town Hall that was recorded on Wednesday in New York City. A handful of lucky fans got to be in the same room with the legendary vocalist – Lucky devils! Color me completely jealous! That will air on Sunday, September 14th 12:00pm.

Columbia has lined up a complete slew of appearances to plug the new album, and it’s #1 on Amazon! Go BARBRA! For a complete list of her appearances you can visit my favorite site barbra-archives.com 

Okay, that is enough Babs for today. I will be posting my full review of her album, Partners when it debuts next Tuesday!

Blogging and New Media

I just saw on Mashable that Facebook is taking cues from Snapchat and may be experimenting with “Disappearing Posts.” For anyone who uses the Snapchat app, we are all familiar with the 10 second window in which to see someone’s picture or video. Now according to writer, Adario Strange, that same feature may be coming to Facebook. You can read the article here. Apparently Facebook is running a small pilot program for a feature that “lets people schedule deletion of their posts in advance” (according to a Facebook spokesman). I’m not sure I’d be too keen on seeing my own posts expire or be deleted, but I wouldn’t mind seeing annoying posts disappear off my own newsfeed.

To be honest, I wish Facebook would just poll users and ask them what they would like to see happen with Facebook. What sort of integration would users like to see?! How would users improve the messenger app for iOS. Oh! Speaking of the messenger App, what exactly is Facebook planning for its iOS apps with the new iPhone 6 and iOS 8 due out soon?! Hmmm, that may be something to watch.

By the way, the Escape channel on Sirius XM is nothing but glorified elevator music, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Back To Brooklyn, a review

Barbra: Back To Brooklyn
Barbra Streisand (Columbia, 2013) Audio CD
***** 5 stars

promotional image from germany, for “Back To Brooklyn”

I wrote this in a rush. Please excuse grammar errors, they are unintentional.

I remember seeing her on October 11, 2012 – it was a night I will never soon forget. Barbra was truly and utterly sublime. The audio recording is a marvel, the sound is fantastic. The orchestra sounds so lush and Streisand’s voice is front and center!  Was she really 70 years old last fall?! Her voice remains beautifully intact after five decades of dazzling millions worldwide. There isn’t a single track on the CD that warrants skipping, honestly it’s Barbra, why would anyone skip over a song she sings.

The album opens with what has to be the greatest comeback song ever written, it is of course, “As If We Never Said Goodbye” from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical, Sunset Boulevard. Streisand used it almost 20 years ago to open her triumph New Years Eve concert at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in 1993/94.  Here, the song gets retooled with new lyrics to commemorate Barbra’s return to her hometown. Funny, poignant and moving, the crowd roars its approval when she reaches that immortal line, “I’ve come home at last” – simply amazing!

“The Way He Makes Me Feel” from Yentl, is one of the songs that Barbra has never performed live in concert! Now that the film has celebrated its 30th anniversary, the song is all the more special. Barbra’s voice sparkles here and it’s amazing to me how wonderful she sounds.

B2B_back_cover

“Didn’t We” is a song Barbra sang live in 1972 for the McGovern fundraiser and her earlier version can of course be found on Live Concert at the Forum. I loved this when I heard it at the concert, Barbra’s voice is strong and the reverb on the big chord near the end is fantastic! I saw video footage from Phildelphia (10/8/12) and she talks about that back in 2006, she and music director, William Ross, tried to do the song but it didn’t work. I’m glad Barbra decided to try it out again, it’s wonderful!

“The Way We Were/Through the Eyes of Love” needs no introduction, her tribute to her dear and late friend, Marvin Hamlisch is so emotional. Listen to it! If you don’t get even a little misty-eyed then you have no soul.

“Rose’s Turn/Some People/Don’t Rain on My Parade” – The Styne medley is a killer, and possibly the best track on the album. Seriously, I repeated it like four times. Her shout at the end, “You bet your ass, Papa” is the best – it’s a remarkable statement to Streisand’s naysayers who frequently shout that she’s too old (or she can’t sing anymore) to play the role of Mama Rose in Styne and Sondheim’s Gypsy. Although it’s a missed opportunity, she could have tackled “Rose’s Turn” and ended the concert’s first act with a big bang. Nevertheless, it’s a showstopper as only Barbra can deliver!

“You’re The Top” is definitely from the second night (10/13) as during Thursday night’s performance, the song seemed clunky and out of place. It’s been polished and rehearsed, again with special lyrics dedicated to all things Brooklyn. Barbra really seems to have fun with it, so does the audience.

What’ll I Do/My Funny Valentine and Lost Inside of You” 

Despite the fact that I am thankful Chris Botti’s solos were cut from the audio CD, his duets with Barbra are wonderful and his trumpet playing is a great compliment to her voice. I also love the arrangements of these pieces. The high note near the end of “Lost Inside of You” gets a great reaction from the audience.

“How Deep is the Ocean” 

Jason Gould has a beautiful voice. Obviously, he has inherited his mother’s gift of singing. The mother and son duet is beautiful! Don’t take my word for it, give it a listen.

“People” 

How many version of this song has she performed live?! Not that it matters, this one is just as beautiful as any of the others!

“Make Our Garden Grow” 

This is the big finale and Barbra delivers her money-note at the end with great gusto! This is identical to the arrangement Rupert Holmes did in 1988 for the abandoned Back To Broadway sessions. It’s funny too, IL Volo also sings but their duet with Barbra on “Smile” isn’t included. The end of truncated as the tail end of “Somewhere” is left off, which was heard during the concert. I love this song from Candide, and I can only hope that the studio version of it recorded in 1988 will come out soon! 

The Voice: I just read a recent review front the New York Daily News, in which Jim Farber writes, “…her lower notes have a phlegmier texture. When she wants to belt, she turns hoarse before chopping the note down to a length she can sustain. That means bravura numbers, like “Don’t Rain on My Parade” or a rare “Rose’s Turn” from “Gypsy,” have to borrow some of their drama from acting rather than vocal chops.” I will admit, Barbra’s voice has lowered since her last live concert tour in 2006. No, she doesn’t sound like she did 20 years, even 30 years ago – but who would expect her to? The woman is 71 years old. Yes Mr. Farber is entitled to his opinion; however, I think he’s being a bit unfair – obviously he forgets that the voice is also part of the body, it ages too.  Barbra is well aware of her narrowing vocal range, but does that stop her?! No. The concert tour was still SOLD OUT. Age has unfortunately taken some of her higher register; however, her middle range is lush and intact. On such gems like, “The Way He Makes Me Feel” you can hardly tell that her voice has aged at all.

Verdict: Barbra is in fine form on the album, I am stunned that she is 71 years old.. truly! This definitely deserves repeated playing.  The mastering is great, there’s a real improvement in this CD than the two disc 2006 outing. Too bad we don’t get any extras (read: bonus tracks) like “On A Clear Day” which was used as an opener later in the tour and there are other varied songs that Barbra performed elsewhere but not in Brooklyn.

Barbra Streisand, Back To Brooklyn

Even if the government is still shutdown and democrats and GOP members continue to squabble about the country’s debt, Obamacare, workers being furloughed, etc I find solace in music and music news. Here are a few things I’ve been thinking about over the past week.

Despite the strong returns (100% ticket sales) on Barbra’s 2012 North American tour, I find it troubling, if not perplexing, that Back to Brooklyn has only been touted to be a one disc affair (versus two, like her three previous concerts) from Streisand’s long-time label, Columbia Records. Given that CD sales have slouched in favor of the more the digital iTunes, and other digital media outlets, is this just a sign of the times or is Columbia losing faith in Streisand as a record selling artist, deciding instead to devote more money to its younger, more hip artists and record buyers?
Can Barbra Streisand still sell records?

Instead of a exclusive deal with QVC, PBS is broadcasting the concert for their fall festival this year. The concert will air next month (for the Winter membership drive) hopefully with extra footage from other concert dates or her summer tour in Europe. The official Press Release from PBS is found here I will not even touch on the subject of the cover art for Brooklyn which has divided fans, some love and others find it cheap, almost fan made – a departure from the usual meticulously planned cover art that Streisand herself usually supervises.

Cover Art for Barbra's new live album and DVD "Back To Brooklyn"
Cover Art for Barbra’s new live album and DVD “Back To Brooklyn”

Given that Barbra has been with the same record company for her entire career, I feel like there was a missed opportunity to celebrate her golden anniversary with a major promotional product push in 2012 (i.e. the fabled 12 disc set that has been rumored about for a while now). In 1991 to celebrate her 30th anniversary, Columbia Records released Just For The Record, a four disc compendium of Barbra’s recording history, featuring rare and unreleased tracks. However, according to Barbra-archives.com, the set was originally mentioned in 1983, it was finally released in 1991. Granted Release Me, last year’s release before her concert tour was a nice compilation of unreleased material from Streisand’s vault, I still think it was a missed chance to do something BIG to keep Barbra Streisand in the forefront of the record buying public.

With speculation of Barbra doing Gypsy having cooled, and the disappointment at the box office with The Guilt Trip, I guess I just worry about Barbra’s staying power as she makes her way into her 70s.

Apparently, she is still working on the Duets album with Walter Afanasieff and Kenneth ‘Babyface’ Edmonds; however, it is anyones guess when that project is being released, possibly early next year?!

Just today, Mary J. Blige and producer David Foster released A Mary Christmas, MJB’s first full length Christmas recording. The album includes a marvelous duet with Barbra Streisand on “When You Wish Upon a Star” and features Chris Botti on trumpet. Fans of Streisand, on the Barbra Streisand forum, were at odds with whether Streisand’s vocals were new or old. Listening to the album and the track itself, they were decidedly NEW and is well worth buying the entire album – which, I might add, is fantastic.

There are thirty-four days until Back To Brooklyn hits record stores and online.