Thursday, October 01, 2009

Love Isn't the Answer - It's a Vocal Coach

So I listened to the new Barbra Streisand album Love is the Answer this afternoon while at work. Pretty closely because I was doing mindless data entry. A new Streisand album is always something I've anticipated since I was a teenager. When I was in high school and a new album would come out I would purposely take one track on the album and not listen to it for a week, just to prolong the joy of hearing Babs sing another song I didn't know... Even her last album Guilty Pleasures, for all it's over produced Barry Gibb-ness had a couple solidly good songs on it.

I've been looking forward to her first album of standards and was really hoping that Diana Krall would be the guiding hand that would force Barbra out of the things that made her Movie Album almost unbearable... except for Moon River every song was so frickin' slow...

So, I listened to Love Is the Answer and I'm just shocked... shocked at how terrible it sounds. Now there are two CDs one with strings and one sans strings. I listened to both; the one with strings has a nice sound, Johnny Mandel is no slouch when it comes to arranging. He did my favorite Peggy Lee album Mirrors. But Barbra, Barbra, Barbra... her voice is gone... As part of the publicity there was a New York Times interview where she professed never to warming up before recording or doing scales, or taking a lesson. Uh, at 67 I'm sure you can't do a lot of things you used to be able to do.

The deterioration in her voice is even more pronounced on the CD without any strings. During You Must Believe In Spring it sounds as if she has asthma, barely making it through the smallest of phrases. My favorite version of this song is by Sylvia Syms, who sounds as if she gargled with rocks and whiskey before singing it. So it's not a song that requires a great singer, but it should sound as if you mean it. Barbra sounds as if she just picked up the sheet music and they kept the first take. Was Krall so fearful to ask for another try?

The sad thing is that nearly all of the songs are all time favorites... the selection couldn't have been better. A Time for Love, Here's That Rainy Day, Here's to Life, If You Go Away... timeless classics; all I'm afraid done better by other people. Barbra brings nothing. She again slows them down to the entertainment value of watching a piece of ice melt. The band is pedestrian at best; crap, how much money did they spend on this album and the band is no better than anything I've seen at any high brow fundraiser.

This is really an album that maybe she could have pulled off 20 years ago; but there seems to be nothing left. Take away her high notes and she isn't that good of an actress to do a jazz reading of a song.

I'm a great fan of watching performers get older and adapt their voices to their age. Peggy Lee comes to mind; she made much out of nothing. When she sang slowly it was because there was a meaning to the slowness; When Sinatra got older his gravel voice and shakey higher register was used to dramatic effect to show a whisper of pain. Rosemary Clooney did most of her best work after 65... Jeez, Delores Hope (Bob's wife) recorded an album after 80 and it was a solid piece of singing. Barbra just comes off under rehearsed, out of shape and not very interested in the material.

Song overview:

1. Here's To Life (Listen to Shirley Horn's masterful version, or Eartha Kitt's amazing version that is actually full of life)

2. In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning (Sinatra's version is the definitive. Although Streisand included a recording of her singing this in 1969 on her For the Record, pared with Tony Newley's song When You Got to Go. That was a great version... why re-record a bad version)

3. Gentle Rain (Probably the best song on the album and the only one with any beat to it; albeit a slow bossa nova.

4. If You Go Away (Ne Me Quitte Pas) (Painfully slow; and I know I recorded a painfully slow version myself. Youtube Dusty Springfield singing it; or Rod McKuen's own version)

5. Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most (Again Streisand included a lovely version of this song on her For The Record. Why sully the memory...?)

6. Make Someone Happy (Argh I've always hated that song... the best version I've heard is Dean Martin singing a swinging style.... Slowed down it's like nails on a blackboard.

7. Where Do You Start? (Really a disappointment; this song should be perfect for her... but it's too late... the best version I ever heard of this song during Bea Arthur's show... Barbra sings it like the pizza delivery man is late, not like she lost a long time lover.)

8. A Time For Love (again a great song... Matt Monro has the best version... It's just too slow...)

9. Here's That Rainy Day (Sinatra has the best version; Her version is o.k. but her voice really sounds creaky in this one)

10. Love Dance (Argh, I hate this song... no one should ever record this awful song again... Did Paul Williams guilt her into doing one of his songs.)

11. Smoke Gets In Your Eyes (A hard song to do regardless... she just barely pulls it off... but with lots of oddly flat notes scattered about... She just sounds really tired...)

12. Some Other Time (This ends the album, and it sounds wistful, just because I don't think there is going to be another time... I can't imagine another album after this one... )

13. You Must Believe In Spring is a bonus cut. (As I mentioned before she sounds wheezy and lost... sung with just a piano it could have/should have been a great closer to the album. The last song on Guilty Pleasures was done with just a piano and her voice sounded vulnerable but strong. Here it sounds like she record this after she got over a flu.)

Poor Barbra. I was telling my friend Dan as we were going back and forth in e-mails about this album ; Forget about her doing Sunset Blvd... she should jump on that Fokkers sequel.

But I'm sure there is many a disappointment waiting to happen in the career of our Barbra.


consa said...

Her voice is shot, yet she attempted "Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most" with its nearly 2 octave range???

Jane Monheit recorded that awesome ballad early this decade. I also have time for Patty Austin's version.

Marna said...

But her hair looks pretty nice...if you like Jennifer Aniston's hair

Vincent Sherlock said...

Greetings from the West of Ireland! Hello there ... a query about a past entry in your blog, referring to Nat Goldstein and your contact with his daughter. Have you any contact details for her now? Would like to send her an email at some stage. Continued enjoyment of your music! A great interest!

Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

Johnny C said...

Thanks anonymous... I've completely out of the routine of writing a blog. Facebook killed it with it's immediate gratification interface.

If things calm down at my regular boring job I might give it a whirl one of these days again. I mean since I think my audience for my blog has pretty much gone away I can maybe reinvent myself... start writing longer pieces.

Thanks again for reading the older pieces. I agree, I spent more time on them.

Tigh said...

Ugh! Really? Are you serious? I thought this was a great album. I loved the rawness of her voice and that it wasn't necessarily the "polished" version we're so used to. I don't know, I liked the version without the strings personally.

And PLEASE don't let her do frickin' Sunset Blvd. That should NEVER be made into a movie. Horrid show by a horrid writer.

Johnny C said...

Hey Tigh... your comment made me put it on again, nearly a year later. And although I don't dislike it as much, I still think it's a misguided effort. I'm not a Barbra hater by any means, but this album just seemed lazy. And from her interviews at the time she gleefully admits she doesn't care about maintaining her voice.

It was a disappointment because I did have very high hopes... I blame Kral more than Barbra... the album really needed some retakes. Case in point, she did If You Go Away on a British chat show and it was flawless.

I think she needs to relearn how to sing with her nearly 70 year old voice. All the great ones do... She might surprise me yet...