Barbra Streisand once famously said that she is “an actress who sings”- how perfectly accurate that statement is. Her thirty-third studio album features Barbra’s interpretation (or rather dramatization?) of 10 songs by the lyricists Alan and Merilyn Bergman, the song-writing couple she has been close friends with for decades. Barbra’s lyrical understanding of each song and her ability to act them out through vocal expressions as if she is shooting scenes of a movie are the qualities only a handful of artists possess. The album’s opener, her spine-tingling version of “The Windmills Of Your Mind”, is the perfect example. And then…there are more.
Barbra’s oh-so-familiar voice bounces effortlessly like Fred Astaire’s dancing feet on the set’s sole up-tempo number “That Face”, a song originally sung by the dance giant, Mr. Astaire. The slow-Jazz numbers like “Solitary Moon” and “Nice N’ Easy”, both showcasing her soothing lower register and impeccable vibrato, are pure pleasure. Her rendition of Sergio Mendes’s “So Many Stars” is absolutely charming. Barbra is serious about this Bossa Nova track. She even sings a few lines in Portuguese. How sweet of her!
Some strict vocal police could easily detect the wears and tears in her upper register especially when she belts on the big ballads like “Alone In The World” and “The Same Hello, The Same Goodbye”. However, the hoarseness and occasional breaking of her voice give a much-needed human touch and a dramatic flair to tearjerkers like “I’ll Never Say Goodbye” and “Someone New In My Life” (Beware: Tears will flow when she belts out the song’s last line “I know that there always will be you in my life from now on” )
In addition to the ten new songs, her previously released songs by the Bergmans are also included on the disc 2. Among these highlights, the last belted note from “A Piece Of Sky” alone will explain the GaGa-listening generation why Streisand is regarded as the vocal supremo. “The Way We Were” will remind us of the way she was and still is today. At 69, Barbra is still delivering her best but still peerless, original and completely on her own in her league. Personally, I doubt anyone will ever sing with such precision, mastery and passion like Streisand does.
Unlike most of the current stuff we hear on the radio, the songs on “What Matters Most” have lyrical depth and literary values. The Bergmans’ lyrics are like poems and they compliment Barbra’s elegant instrument: her voice. “You Don’t Bring Me Flower” and “What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life”, among others, are the songs that have stood the test of time. It is such a great idea that Barbra includes these timeless gems along with the new ones on this project.
Just when we thought we would not hear any new material from her anytime soon after 2010’s hugely successful “Love Is The Answer” Barbra surprised us with "What Matters Most". To us, Streisand fans, this is more than an album, it is a gift. And… we are grateful.