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.


“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.


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.

Release Me

Release Me
Barbra Streisand (Columbia, 2012)

CK Rating: 5 Stars / A+

Since Columbia released the vinyl edition of Release Me  on September 25th, the company has posted other tracks on Soundcloud for all to hear. Finally, the album was released today, and I also got notification that QVC shipped my CD/DVD set. I love every track on the recording. Most fans have been dying to hear these unreleased gems for decades. After years of waiting and wishing, Barbra fans have them in three formats: CD, vinyl and digital download. The vinyl edition of the album took me by surprise for reasons: she said back in 1986, “I never want to hear vinyl again,” and Love Is The Answer Barbra’s 2009 offering had a double-Lp release that was super limited. I find it so intriguing that after not having a vinyl pressing of a Barbra Streisand for decades, her 2012 release of “unreleased” material gets released on Lp. Nice choice for Columbia to do that, or did Barbra Streisand change her tune on conventional records?

Here are my thoughts on my favorite tracks:

“Being Good Isn’t Good Enough,” an outtake from the 1985 Broadway Album  sessions, opens the album with an anthem that seems to be perfect for Streisand – “being good isn’t good enough.” The song perfectly summarizes Streisand. Once labeled a perfectionist, the lyrics suit the ideal that being good just isn’t enough. In musical terms this is true, if Streisand heard a wrong note, or was unhappy with her vocal take, she would shelve a song or perhaps an entire session of work. The track was supposed to open the  GRAMMY winning album; however, the business related “Putting it Together” by Stephen Sondheim with commentary on Streisand’s struggles in the music made the album.

“Didn’t We” is a classic Jimmy Webb song, which was featured during Streisand’s live concert at the Forum. Strangely enough, it didn’t have a studio version release. That injustice has been corrected. Streisand’s voice soars on the track and blows her live version from 1972 out of the water.

“Willow Weep For Me” recorded during the Simply Streisand  sessions with Ray Ellis, in 1967, is beautiful, jazzy and smooth. The arrangement by Ellis is perfectly suited to Streisand’s early voice.

“How Are Things in Glocca Morra?/Heather on the Hill” – The medley of two classic Broadway songs, is from the 1988  Back to Broadway sessions with the brilliant Rupert Holmes, who had created the successful Mystery of Edwin Drood  for Broadway in 1986. The wonderful thing about these sessions is they’re available on YouTube. The video footage of Barbra in full recording mode is fascinating, albeit dated. The process of recording the arrangement, tempo, orchestra and voice just right is so intriguing. Amazingly, Streisand makes it all look and sound effortless. The track on Release Me is just beautiful. Editorializing, I wish she had gone ahead with her  Back to Broadway  sessions in 1988, instead of what Columbia released in 1993.

“Mother And Child” is a duet between Barbra and herself in two roles: mother and child. The track is taken from a Michel Legrand (and Bergman) song cycle from the 1970s. The song is wonderful, almost something from Sesame Street like the classic “Sing” by Joe Raposo. I love the whole thing. When I was listening to the song, for some reason, I shed tears. I’m not sure why. Perhaps it was the lyrics? The Music? I don’t know. Subesquently listenings moved me to tears as well.

“Home” – from The Wiz  was made famous by Diana Ross when she sang the song in the motion picture version of the musical. Streisand’s interpretation doesn’t offer anything new; however, she does add her signature styling to the song. The song was recorded initially for the The Broadway Album in 1985. Fortunately, the arrangement has been slightly updated to fully realize the potential of the song. Barbra is in her element on this song. She should include it on her new tour!

Madonna: MDNA (2012) Deluxe iTunes Edition

Madonna: MDNA (2012)

Even though Madonna’s 12th studio album drops internationally on March 26, it has already leaked on the internet – a full week beforehand. Critics have given this new album from the Queen of Pop generally positive notices. The singles “Give Me All Your Luvin” and “Girl Gone Wild” were well-selling if lackluster, even if the former got tons of airplay and even was included in Madonna’s overly meticulous Superbowl half-time show. Interestingly enough, the singles don’t give any hint to the albums overall thematic presence. The great thing about Madonna’s discography is that, over the past 25 years, it’s been easy to map out where she was going as an artist. Listeners and critics alike could easily figure out what Madonna’s focal point was. Slant Magazine reviewer, Sal Cinquemani, writes: “Beating the clock, moving fast, accomplishing things because time is scare and life is short are themes that have permeated almost every aspect of Madonna’s life and career.” Cinquemani highlights the recent deaths of Pop music icons Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston, stating that, “the past three years, two of the three biggest pop superstars of the ’80s have died tragically. But unlike Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston, Madonna wasn’t thrust into the spotlight by way of an enterprising family or the kind of prodigious talent that, with or without its owner’s consent, begs to be hoisted up and exalted by the masses.” Madonna’s talent isn’t anything new, she’s never had the same ability as Michael and most certainly she never had Whitney’s magnificent pipes. She makes up for the lack of talent with a creative furor all her own. A dancer and singer, with stunning self-discipline, she makes no excuses about her behavior. Love her or hate her – she is Madonna.

With her new album, MDNA, Madonna seems to be cashing in all the drama that has happened in her life. The marriage and divorce from Guy Ritchie, the opinions of the press, and the ever-shifting sphere that is Pop music itself. For example, “Girl Gone Wild” opens with dialogue which echoes her Like a Prayer days in the late 1980s. Yet the song clearly speaks to a woman set free, going wild. the lyric “Girls, they just wanna have some fun” seems like a nod to Cyndi Lauper’s 80s hit – but not nearly as lyrically pleasing.

“Gang Bang” thumps with a rhythmic beat.. “bang, bang, shot ya dead..” comes the chant. This is clearly a main focus – anger, rage, death, getting even. Madonna is working out her demons, music is her therapist and we (the listener) are treated to the transcripts of her therapy sessions. Oh, joy. The yell near the end of, “Drive, bitch” is interestingly road rage-esque – but it’s Madonna she can say what ever the hell she wants to.

MDNA is a bitchy, defiant album. The writing is on the wall and Madonna makes it clear what her thoughts and views are. “I don’t give a..” calls Donna Summer’s “Fame (The Game)” from Summer’s 2008 release Crayons to my mind, in how the song talks about lawyers, marriage, money, prenups, et cetera. The song is fun, catchy and a great listen. The declaration by Nicki Minaj: “There’s only one Queen, and that’s Madonna. B****” is not only cheeky, but plays to the worldwide consciousness of who the artist has fashioned herself to be. After over 25 years in the entertainment business, there is only one Madonna.

“Love Spent” is an interesting track, alluding to more of Madonna’s history with her ex-husband Guy Ritchie.

“Falling Free” is an breath of fresh air, and is perhaps the only William Orbit cut on the album that reminds listeners of Ray of Light . Atmospheric and a look back at more of Madonna’s historical self, she’s “falling free” as if she suspended in midair. Oddly as beautiful as this song as, it’s simplicity stands out – sticks out, rather. One has to question what Madonna’s motives were for teaming with Orbit again?! What ever her reasons, I fell in love with this song, it was surprising as it was pleasing.

“I Fucked Up” is a great song: Madonna saying “I’m sorry.” In 2006 she declared, “I don’t wanna hear, I don’t wanna know, please don’t say you’re sorry” on Confessions on a Dance Floor. Her listeners get the sorrowful side of a woman who is only human. She’s admitting she makes mistakes. I really can appreciate that. A woman may be angry, but she still has her emotions: “I’m not ashamed to say, I wish I could have you back maybe one day..” – will she get him back one day?

For better or for worse, Madonna has returned to the music world. At 53 years old, The Queen of Pop retains her crown.

3.5/5 Stars

Noteworthy tracks

  • I Don’t Give A..
  • I’m a Sinner
  • Love Spent
  • Falling Free
  • I Fucked Up


So, I must thank an undisclosed source for the skinny on the new Madonna album. Madonna herself, set down with Jimmy Fallon Saturday evening for a Facebook interview at its NYC headquaters. I didn’t much care for it. For starters, one could barely hear Madonna answer the questions and it was too short to be considered an interview. I’ve been listening and listening to the album and I have to admit, it’s quite good. It’s not on the same par as Ray of Light or Confessions on a Dance Floor, but it is much better than Madonna’s last album with Warner Bros. in 2008. That is for sure! I forgot to add “Turn Up the Radio” to my list of noteworthy songs, I really like the track, it’s so fitting on a nice sunshine filled day. It has the feel of summer in it – a huge plus given the release date.

Admittedly, I instantly judged the album by its cover art (which I adore.) I knew Confessions would be awesome because of its cover and album art, this new album is no exception. The artwork by Mert and Marcus and Giovanni Bianco has “dancing queen” written all over it.


The album has been getting a lot of weird reviews lately. Madonna is no stranger to divided criticism. Yet again, for listeners it’s a love or hate relationship.

‘MDNA’ isn’t a terrible album – but it is the sound of an artist trying too hard to raise eyebrows and remain relevant. The standout moments come when Madonna eases off the thrusting and the grinding and writes a decent pop song – which she can still do with ease, writes Michael Baggs from

Baggs goes on, “Every new Madonna album is an event and hopes are always high but this is a huge disappointment. A bland, characterless disappointment. Like the drug on which the album-title pun is built on, ‘MDNA’ is a bright and energetic blast, but one that will leave even her most hardened fans feeling crappy once the buzz has passed.”

I’m still listening…

Bennett y Estefan

Usually, I don’t review albums after they’re released. I’m usually so caught up on artists that I know and albums that are 15-20 plus years old, I don’t usually give any new releases any time of day. However, when the new school year started and Barbra Streisand released her new album What Matters Most, I wanted to change that. So, I have. However, I do stick to artists I primarily recognize – hence Bennett and Estefan. Below is what I formally think of their new releases.

Tony Bennett: Duets II – 2011 (Columbia)

Tony Bennett has been a traditional pop mainstay for years, he needs no introduction. He’s been singing, albeit crooning tunes for decades. People all over the music industry unashamedly adore him (never mind his 9/11 comment). There are many great reasons to adore the man, most especially: his styling and his voice. Everything about Bennett is top notch. His duets album comes as no surprise, as his first album of duets in 2006 reigned supreme on the charts during the holiday season, and spawned a great music video/documentary directed by Rob Marshall – Tony Bennett: An American Classic which won an EMMY award.

Duets II

This new album deserves the same, if not more praise. Bennett, having recently celebrated his 85th birthday sounds amazing. The song selection is wonderful. What stands out even more are his duet partners chiefly: Lady Gaga and the late Amy Winehouse. It is Lady Gaga’s duet with Bennett on “The Lady is a Tramp” that opens the album. Deliciously jazzy and the ad-libbing and banter between the two is so charming. To say Gaga sounds at home singing Jazz, goes without saying. Someone sign her to the Verve label quick. She could take nods from Ella, Billie, Sarah or even Natalie Cole with divine ease. Gaga sounds like she’s really enjoying herself, great opening track. John Mayer has a few drinks with Bennett on “One for my baby,” a duet that tells a great story between the two men. It’s funny and honestly, you find yourself wanting to have a drink with both of them.

One of the gems here is undoubtedly the duet with Amy Winehouse on “Body and Soul.” I’ve never really appreciated Winehouse, although her sordid tale has been splashed around on tabloid after tabloid page. Unfortunately, this recording the last one Winehouse would make before her untimely death in July. What ever her personal strife or struggles with substance abuse, she sounds wonderful on this track. Befitting perhaps that her last recording is with such a respected man as Bennett. The video of them recording their track is a time capsule, a moment that is all too bittersweet in the wake of her loss.

The album holds up very well, although it becomes a bit too serious with Josh Groban and Andrea Bocelli, who are both brilliant singers but sound a little too classical and stiff against the sumptuous Jazz orchestrations. ‘Yesterday I Heard the Rain” with Alejandro Sanz reminds so much of Sarah Vaughan’s Brazilian Romance but it just doesn’t work, I don’t know. I rather wish the headliner would have soloed on the track.

Country music’s superstars Faith Hill and Carrie Underwood both are wonderful on “The Way You Look Tonight” and “It had to be You” rather nice to hear them out of their country element. Musical versatility is so nice to hear when certain artists cross into different genres.

My favorite tracks include, “Blue Velvet” with k.d. lang, who sounds wonderful, “Who Can I Turn To” surprised me greatly, I had no idea that Queen Latifah had such a lovely singing voice, her primary records having been in the realms of rap and hip-hop.

I won’t even discuss the last track “When Do the Bells Ring for Me” with Mariah Carey, which I could take or leave – it would sound much better if she didn’t have to insert her regular histrionic vocal ornaments (that she is famous for).

All-in-all, Bennett’s second offering of duets, is an overstuffed cornucopia of deliciousness. Some might say that the arrangements are too lush, but they work beautifully. Tony Bennett brings out the best in his duet partners and everyone involved has a good time, so the listener can easily infer. Though this may not be a “definitive” work by Tony Bennett, it displays his staying power and how well regarded he still is.

4.5 Stars.

Gloria Estefan: Little Miss Havana 2011

It’s been a long time since “Conga” made waves back in 1985. Since her debut with The Miami Sound Machine,  Cuban American and 7 time GRAMMY winning vocalist, Gloria Estefan has been up and she’s been down. Yet, she’s never been away for too long. Oh wait.. the last time she released a full ENGLISH album was back in 2003. So, maybe she has been away a while. All the more reason to come back with a BANG right? Well she does just that on her new album Little Miss Havana which dropped today. Produced by Pharrell Williams, Motiff, Emilio Estefan, Drop Dead Beats and the artist herself, this new album points the “Conga” and “Rhythm is Gonna Get You” singer in the same direction that made her famous. Only the sound is “updated.” Singles likes the title song, “Little Miss Havana” and “Wepa” have made waves. However, something gets lost.

There are way too many people producing the album, the energy is there but it’s a hodgepodge of this and that: latin beats, pop music, electronica et al. It’s annoying and headache inducing. Okay, “Little Miss Havana” is cute, but that’s the only saving grace on the album. I dare anyone NOT to get annoyed with “Right Away” the repeated “lets dance, all night” makes me want to scream and throw something. Reviews on iTunes seem to be mixed: listeners either love it or hate it.

Which ever side of the fence you’re on, it has to be said that there are no tracks that remind even me of “Dr. Beat” or “Words Get in the Way”

Unfortunately, this album is so far from what I expected. I think I’ll stick to her Greatest Hits and probably listen to the “Megamix” from 1998 VH1 Divas Live, I’m sure you ALL remember that. Looks like I need to wipe the dust off of MSM and Gloria Estefan’s late ’80s offerings.