Reviewer: Lucy Thackray
Ms Streisand’s breathy laughter opens track one of Release Me. “This is take eight? I haven’t sung it once!” she giggles, before launching into the sublime Being Good Isn’t Good Enough (from Sixties musical Hallelujah, Baby!). Now a fame-shunning 70-year-old, Barbra Streisand’s big notes certainly haven’t gone into hiding on this album of unreleased material. On 11 tracks personally selected from her private collection of master tapes (mostly 1960s and 70s sessions), Streisand soars through showstopping tracks such as Didn’t We and Home from The Wiz. Quieter moments are there too, on tracks whose subtleties perhaps suggest a reason for their being held back – How Are Things in Glocca Morra from Finian’s Rainbow is an odd ballad for powerhouse Babs, while Try To Win a Friend is a little twee and country to make full use of the glorious sadness of her sound. Mother and Child is similarly sentimental – the texture of Streisand’s voice always feels like it should be saying something bigger than the pedestrian lyrics of this track.
For ‘friends of Streisand’, though, there are plenty of high points. The snippets of recording banter give it a raw, almost live feel and the loose jazziness of Willow Weep for Me and Lost in Wonderland are very easy listening. Her incredibly stripped-back rendition of I Think It’s Going to Rain Today with composer Randy Newman on piano is a real treasure – no one does wistful like Barbra. The Send in the Clowns-esque If It’s Meant to Be is a fantastic penultimate track, leaving the heavyweight encore to Home. As this final number opens, there is Babs’ unmistakeable drawl again – “I wanna go home,” she quips. Thinking of someone with Streisand’s talent, it’s hard to picture recording just being the day job, but these snapshots of studio life makes her somehow more real and her subsequent vocal performance even more astonishing.
This preservation of the ‘in the studio’ sound and feel is the key to the brilliance of the cleverly-titled Release Me, but as a showcase of Streisand’s power and talent for interpretation it deserves a place in any fan’s collection.
Release Me by Barbra Streisand is out now.