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12/22/12

Barbra Streisand
Release Me
Columbia Records

Though the title rather terrifyingly suggests an album of Engelbert Humperdinck covers, it actually refers to 11 tracks, languishing for various lengths of time in the Columbia vaults, handpicked by Streisand for belated release. Though such initiatives are catnip for diehard enthusiasts and completists, too often they reconfirm the truism that material is left on the cutting room floor for a reason. Here, however, Streisand’s notorious perfectionism ensures that everything is showroom quality.

Alan and Marilyn Bergman have long been Streisand’s favorite lyricists, and two lesser-known gems from their canon are welcome discoveries: the tender “Mother and Child,” recorded in 1973 for the hungrily anticipated but never realized Life Cycle of a Woman project, and “If It’s Meant to Be,” recorded last year and intended for the Bergman tribute What Matters Most. Streisand never recorded a bossa-nova album, but her delightful 1968 treatment of “Lost in Wonderland,” with Marshall Barer’s winsome lyric fitted to Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Antigua,” hints at the delights such a platter might have brought.

Most precious are her hushed 1967 reading of “Willow Weep for Me,” arranged by Ray Ellis for Simply Streisand; an equally subdued and heartfelt “Didn’t We” from 1970; and, from that same year, a rehearsal of “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today” with composer Randy Newman at the piano. That last cut captures Streisand at her most unguarded and unmannered, and may well be the finest performance of her career.

Originally published in December 2012
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