Soundtracks are a lot more than movie music...
...or so I'm ready to argue as a 30 year devotee of this sorely under appreciated genre. So, in an effort to do my part, each week
I'll be making recommendations of soundtracks current and vintage, make a fuss over long awaited soundtrack scores finally getting
a well deserved release, and in general, make some noise about this often overlooked category. Beyond my long experience as a
listener and as a pianist and songwriter, both of which I've put to use in writing a quarterly soundtrack column for the Chicago
Tribune I can only offer my recommendations. You'll discern my taste soon enough and upfront I'd like to make it clear that I'll
focus most heavily on SCORE soundtracks. In the end, all criticism is subjective but if I can point a listener toward a little heard
soundtrack or strongly advise you to either ORDER IMMEDIATELY or SKIP ALTOGETHER, all the better.
Note: Though this is where I usually review movie soundtracks, on occasion I've
also reviewed CDs by Amy Winehouse, Barbra Cook, and holiday releases from
Bette Midler and yes, Barbra Streisand - whose new CD, "Love is the Answer" is
the subject of this new column.
Did Barbra Streisand have a secret, unrealized desire to record in the style of
the late jazz chanteuse Julie London? London with her infamously slow as
molasses tempos and minimal musical accompaniment (often just jazz
guitar) was riding high when Streisand was just getting ready to start out
(and Babs recorded London’s big hit “Cry Me A River” on her debut albeit in
her own inimitable style) so the idea isn’t that far afield. And listening to
Love is the Answer, Streisand’s new CD, a collaboration with jazz
vocalist/pianist Diana Krall who produced and played piano (and otherwise
seems to have stayed in the background), gives the notion further
credence. How else to explain the somnambulant approach of this
hermetically sealed recording?
Using Krall’s jazz trio as a basis, the recording then sweetens each of the 13
standards chosen for the project (“The Wee Small Hours in the Morning,”
“Make Someone Happy,” “Here’s to Life,” etc.) – all ballads – with unvarying
string arrangements by Johnny Mandel that offer not a dash of musical
piquancy (my kingdom for Nelson Riddle!) and quickly wash away any
distinction between the songs. It’s all of a creamy piece and a very long,
unwavering piece it is. Streisand, at 67, has lost much of her signature
belting range and what remains has none of the lived in, authoritative
distinction of the great jazz vocalists (like, say Shirley Horn, late period
Rosemary Clooney or Julie London for that matter).
Streisand instead concentrates on emoting each syllable so intently, slowly
and evenly that as the CD proceeds it sounds as if she’s practicing her
enunciation rather than singing. The occasional dramatic flourish (a laugh of
regret during “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” heavy sighs, etc.) temporarily
relieves the soothing torpor but not for long. Even the bossa nova flavored
“Gentle Rain” is taken at a grandpa tempo, stripping this exquisite piece of
any liveliness. I am a lifelong Streisand fan and eagerly sought the
recording – hoping that here at last was the follow-up to 1967’s still thrilling
Simply Streisand. But by the time Love Is The Answer got to the great
Bernstein-Comden-Green classic “Some Other Time,” I am saddened to
report, I was eager to herd this self-reverential, thing that wouldn’t leave CD
out the door.
Don't forget to check out previous soundtrack recommendations by visiting
Next Recommendation: TBA
Streisand's new CD cover and torch
singer Julie London - perhaps a ghostly
influence on Barbra?