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.

New Music: Pet Shop Boys (Electric, 2013)

Apparently, The Guardian is allowing UK subscribers to stream PSB’s new album. Click HERE. So I decided to try and listen for myself; however the article does come with a caveat, “..though sadly this player will not work for readers in the US.” Fortunately, I found my way around that. I love the album! Here are my favorite tracks:

1. Axis
2. Bolshy
3. Love is a Bourgeois Construct
8. Thursday
9. Vocal

I tried to give their last album, Elysium a chance but none of the music connected with me. Truly, it has been a long time since PSB has released anything worth getting worked up about. I will always love their collaborations with Liza (Results) and Dusty Springfield (Reputation) in 1989 and 1990, as those albums have a special place in my heart. However, when I heard Stuart Price was producing the album with the duo, my hope was piqued and for good reason. Price’s work with Madonna on Confessions on a Dance Floor and Kylie Minogue’s Aphrodite is nothing short of spectacular.

Electric is special as it returns Chris Lowe and Neil Tennant to their electro roots. The duo have been around for over 30 years now (their hit song “West End Girls” came out in 1984!) and it looks like they will be around for years to come.

Across the board, Electric garnered positive reviews. The Guardian gave it 4/5 stars. =) Not bad!

The Guardian reviewer, Alexis Petridis, wrote near the bottom of his review, “Tennant has talked about being struck by a negative iTunes review of Elysium that demanded “more banging and lasers.” I would like to think that the British Pop duo were so struck by this supposed negative review that they decided to put together an appropriate album. With Stuart Price producing, Electric definitely fits the bill with much banging and lasers, the video promos for the album drive it home.

I truly hope Julian Mendelsohn, the long time PSB producer, will offer up remixes of a few (if not all) of the tracks on the album.

I’ll post a more in depth review next week!

Just an idea!

I love finding out when musical artists that I adore are readying new albums. A favorite british music group of mine, Pet Shop Boys, will be releasing a brand new album in June, entitled, Electric and it’s being produced by Stuart Price.  Now. I am tickled pink by this news. I love PSB, I have for years. Ever since I heard their two collaborations with Liza Minnelli and the late Dusty Springfield Results (1989) and Reputation (1990) I have loved, loved, loved PSB. Stuart Price is another musical genius that I just love,  his work on Madonna’s 2005 album, Confessions on a Dance Floor was nothing short of spectacular. Price has worked with all sorts of artists: Kylie Minogue, Scissor Sisters, The Killers,  et al.

But, I had an idea.

Since Stuart Price is producing the new Pet Shop Boys album, Electric, for their new record label. You know, I think Barbra Streisand needs a new POP album. A strongly produced project that has a ballad/dance theme to it. Stuart Price would be an excellent choice. I’ve loved his production values since he did Madonna’s wonderful Confessions On A Dance Floor in 2005. I think Barbra deserves new “earworms” that she can attach her signature voice to. After her two pop albums in the 1980s: Emotion (1984) and Til I Loved You (1988) both of which were marred with mediocre writing and too many producers, I think the best way to commemorate her 50th Anniversary with Columbia is a with a great album of new material.

I commend Columbia for the duets project, which is still ongoing; however, I think Tony Bennett effectively exhausted the “duets” idea with 3 albums worth of them for record label. Will the music buying public be willing to hear Barbra sing duets? Guess time will tell.
If MADONNA can still do dance oriented albums in her mid-fifties, why couldn’t Barbra revisit her disco days?

I think it’d be fun.

Going back “downtown”

I have been a fan of British legendary songstress, actress and writer, Petula Clark for years. (I don’t know there is something about British musical artists that I love, my adoration of British Jazz legend Dame Cleo Laine notwithstanding.)  My mother, who first heard Petula’s music during her heyday in the early 1960s in Scotland, introduced me to her amazing song “Downtown” as a child. Since those formative years, Petula Clark’s music and fantastic artistry has been ever present in iTunes playlist(s). Just today, I read some sad news on Facebook: apparently Petula Clark was preparing a show at Olympia in Paris, France, but unfortunately the production company she was working with went under, leaving the singer and her crew with no choice but to cancel the show. The french have had a love affair with Petula Clark for decades, and no doubt the show was supposed to be start of a promotional tour for her new album Lost in You due to be released late next month.

According to Clark’s facebook page, the star posted:

I am deeply distressed and disappointed at the cancellation of my show at the Paris Olympia in March.
The company who were to “present” and “produce” the show – Additup – has “gone under”!!
In other words, they have gone into liquidation.

There is no news on whether or not the 80-year-old British pop legend will be able to promote her new album with a tour in the UK later this year or not.  Needless to say fans in France, England and all over the world were saddened by the troubling news, but rallied almost at once, asking her to play London and the rest of the UK instead. One Facebook user went as far as to declare “Paris will wait.”

The new album Lost In You produced by John Williams is a album of cover songs, but Petula was persuaded to tackle her 1960s hit “Downtown” once again. Oddly enough however, the album isn’t available from American online retailers… Hmmm, I hope that will be corrected soon. As of 2012, she is still very active having released an album in french simply entitled “Petula.”

It’s exciting that such a legendary performer is still going strong!

The album will be released on February 25th in the UK and according to Petula’s facebook page, Brooklyn NY based ‘The End Records’ will be releasing the album some time in April.