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12/04/11

What Matters Most
Barbra Streisand
Columbia Records

In the annals of pop vocals, surprisingly rare are longstanding relationships between singers and songwriters. The two most enduring are the fitful partnership between Sinatra and the team of Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen and the more steadily productive pairing of Streisand with lyricists Alan and Marilyn Bergman. Beginning in 1966 with a snippet of “That Face,” Streisand has recorded over five-dozen Bergman tunes; but the 10 included here mark the first time she has devoted an entire studio album, her 33rd, to their work.

Since the 2009 release of Love Is the Answer, Streisand, now 69, has settled into a late-career renaissance that represents her best-ever work, harkening back to the unadorned elegance of her earliest recordings yet enriched with sage vocal maturity. The voice remains impeccably beautiful, her phrasing still nonpareil. Four of the selections are from the Bergmans’ first decade of hits, including a full-length version of “That Face”—written by Alan for Fred Astaire, and as a courtship bouquet to Marilyn—that is the album’s standout track. “Nice ’n’ Easy” is given an affectively gentle, balladic reading, the softly expansive “So Many Stars” shimmers beautifully, and the dense, fragile mysteriousness of “The Windmills of Your Mind” is superbly realized. Of the less-familiar material, two musical playlets—the rollercoaster romantic saga of “The Same Hello, the Same Goodbye” and tenderly impassioned denouement of the title track—stand head-and-shoulders above the rest.

Originally published in November 2011
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