What Matters Most - Barbra Streisand Sings the Lyrics of Alan and Marilyn Bergman

by Kevin Scott Hall

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday August 23, 2011

After a stunning career that has earned her every reward imaginable, superstar Barbra Streisand, now 69, stands at an interesting crossroads as she moves into the final act of her artistic life.

She is coming off perhaps her first-ever less than stellar live performance at this year's Grammy Awards, a supporting role in the critically bashed "Little Fockers," and (for this reviewer) a sleepy reading of standards with her last recording, "Love is the Answer."

Now comes "What Matters Most" (Columbia), a ten-song set that has the singer performing songs with lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman. The lyricists are behind some of Streisand's biggest hits ("The Way We Were" and "You Don't Bring Me Flowers") as well as what is arguably her greatest recording achievement, the soundtrack to her film "Yentl."

From the opening lines of the first track, "Windmills of Your Mind" (music, Michel Legrand), one is treated to that voice, a capella, unencumbered by any instrumentation. It is a bold leap for the singer, whose recording efforts have often suffered from being overproduced (Streisand herself produced this album). Here, when terrific lyrics are married to an actress and singer of the highest caliber, there is consummation of the highest order; it is, indeed, a monologue set to music, when the instrumentation eventually creeps in. The listener quickly discovers that the genius of Streisand is back, in all her honest, passionate glory.

With "What Matters Most," Streisand reminds us why she is a legend-and that she still has greatness in her. In all likelihood, she'll be returning to the Grammys in 2012 to collect yet another award.

When she sings "You're like a sudden breeze that blew in my life, a new face, a new smile, a new song" ("Something New in My Life," music, Michel Legrand), she manages to capture both the yearning of a teenage girl and the tremulousness of an older woman who has happened upon a miracle late in life. It's emotionally breathtaking, and today's crop of young singers can't come near her.

What makes Streisand great is that she keeps her considerable power in reserve, not needing to prove to the listener every second that she can still belt it out. She slows down "Nice 'n' Easy" (music, Lew Spence) and delivers it in a breathlessly seductive fashion: "The problem now is to hold your horses/To rush it now would be a crime/Nice 'n' easy does it every time," she coos. Please-with voice alone, she is sexier than Kim Kardashian or any of her ilk.

In fact, it's another ballad-heavy set for the diva (with the exception of the jaunty "That Face," with music by Lew Spence), but when they are done with this much feeling, who can complain?

Streisand displays vulnerability on "I'll Never Say Goodbye" (music, David Shire) and gives anthemic heft to "The Same Hello, The Same Goodbye" (music, John Williams). The menu is varied; the emotional appetite is filled.

With "What Matters Most," Streisand reminds us why she is a legend-and that she still has greatness in her. In all likelihood, she'll be returning to the Grammys in 2012 to collect yet another award. In a career full of remarkable achievements, this album stands as yet another.

Kevin Scott Hall is the author of Off the Charts! (2010, iUniverse) and the memoir, A Quarter Inch from My Heart (2014, Wisdom Moon).