Barbra Streisand “Release Me” (Columbia Records)
Powerhouse entertainer and well-established perfectionist Barbra Streisand lets loose 11 previously unreleased tracks with “Release Me,” an archival album compiled from castoffs squirreled away in her vast personal vault.
“Being Good Isn't Good Enough,” a 1985 recording from the Broadway musical “Hallelujah, Baby!,” proves an apropos opener. Streisand, 70, earns her reputation as a stickler for excellence here, since most of the tracks sound flawlessly delightful. “There's no such thing as perfection, it's only striving for it that matters,” she writes in the liner notes. “And I'm a bit less critical these days ... but just a bit!”
Streisand and co-producer Jay Landers have cannily chosen hidden gems that span the decades and various branches of her far-flung career — Broadway, film, pop — but still sound at home on the same album. The Grammy/Oscar/Tony/Emmy winner's famed voice astonishes with its consistent power and purity.
Although no less than Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald have previously recorded it, her 1967 rendition of the standard “Willow Weep for Me” feels definitive. Her interpretive talents are on full display and her pristine voice matches beautifully with Randy Newman's piano on “I Think It's Going to Rain Today,” her 1970 cut of one of his most covered songs.
But the highlight of “Release Me” is her soaring 1970 rendition of Oklahoma native Jimmy Webb's heartbreaking ballad “Didn't We.”
“Release Me” has its missteps — notably the bossa nova breathlessness of “Lost in Wonderland” and the cacophonous crescendo of “Mother and Child” — but the album will have Bab's faithful followers clamoring for more less-than-perfect archival material, particularly if it comes this close to faultless.
— Brandy McDonnell