Streisand can sing, but she’s no jazz singer.

If love is the answer, Babs should ask better questions.

If love is the answer, Babs should ask better questions.

My review of Barbra Streisand’s “jazz” album, Love Is the Answer, went up yesterday at Allaboutjazz.com.

Love Is The Answer
Barbra Streisand | Columbia Records
By Jeff Winbush

On paper it must have seemed like a stroke of genius. Pair Barbra Streisand, the most successful vocalist in the world with Diana Krall, the critically acclaimed and commercially successful jazz stylist, turn them loose in the studio with selections from the Great American Songbook and wait for the magic.

Unfortunately, there’s no magic and little chemistry between Streisand and Krall on Love Is The Answer, as the results are more fizzle than sizzle.

Streisand is a woman of many talents. An incredible vocalist. An award-winning actress and film director. A political activist and philanthropist. What she is not is a jazz singer.

Love Is The Answer isn’t a radical departure from any of Streisand’s albums of the last 20 years. It’s polished, professional and often over-produced to the teeth, with Johnny Mandel’s string arrangements sapping any trace of spontaneity out of the project. Krall takes the producer’s chair and she’s assisted by co-producer Tommy LiPuma, but the only credit that matters is the executive producer–Barbra Joan Streisand–who really calls the shots.

That’s a shame, because while Streisand sounds perfectly fine, at 67 her range has diminished; she prefers low energy, undemanding material that can be delivered in a seductive whisper. Nobody ever confused Streisand with Tina Turner, but much of her upper range is gone and her drab, unexciting delivery of this material quickly becomes tedious.

Streisand delivers this ballad-heavy album professionally, but without a single up-tempo song among the 13 tracks, Love Is The Answer drags in the middle and seems longer than it is. The bland predictability of Krall’s production (who restricts herself to playing piano) never challenges or inspires Streisand to assert herself.

There’s not much memorable here, other than Streisand’s fumbling French on “If You Go Away (Ne Me Quitte Pas)” and noticeably off-key singing on “Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most.” She fares better with “In The Wee Small Hours,” “Love Dance” and “A Time for Love,” but never makes these songs uniquely her own.

The album really suffers from Mandel’s saccharine string arrangements which, since there’s no respite from them, quickly become cloying. Krall’s quartet briefly cuts through the clutter on “Make Someone Happy,” but against Mandel’s relentless orchestral onslaught they don’t stand a chance.

Columbia Records is releasing a “deluxe” two-CD edition of the album: the orchestral version on CD1; and Streisand, backed by Krall’s quartet minus the strings on CD2. Those who eagerly anticipated the advertised collaboration between Streisand and Krall will find themselves having to pay extra for it.

To promote the release, Streisand appeared for one night only at the legendary Village Vanguard, where she had opened for Miles Davis some 48 years earlier. But Streisand isn’t interested in fully embracing jazz; only dabbling lightly at it. Love Is The Answer is a deeply disappointing album that falls flat as smooth jazz, contemporary jazz, cocktail lounge jazz or, for that matter, anything remotely resembling jazz.

Track Listing: Here’s To Love; In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning; Gentle Rain; If You Go Away (Ne Me Quitte Pas); Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most; Make Someone Happy; Where Do You Start; A Time For Love; Here’s That Rainy Day; Love Dance; Smoke Gets In Your Eyes; Some Other Time; You Must Believe In Spring.

Personnel: Barbra Streisand: vocals; Diana Krall: piano; Jeff Hamilton: drums; John Clayton: bass; Anthony Wilson: guitar; Robert Hurst: bass (1, 2, 6, 11); Tamir Hendelman: piano (1, 2, 6, 11, 12); Alan Broadbent: piano (5, 7, 8, 9); Bill Charlap: piano (13); Paulinho DaCosta: percussion (3, 10).

Streisand sings jazz? Now this I gotta hear.

What Barbara wants, Barbara gets.  She wants to sing jazz.

What Barbra wants, Barbra gets. She wants to sing jazz.

I’m a big fan of Barbra Streisand’s voice.  What I’m not a big fan of are  Barbra Streisand albums.

Streisand is blessed with what I consider one of the five best voices among female artists.  The others being Aretha Franklin, Annie Lennox, Oleta Adams and Tracey Thorn of Everything But the Girl if you were wondering.  One day I will make the case why Adams and Thorn belong on the list with their better known sister singers.

Streisand’s albums tend to fall into one of two categories:  bland pop music posturing and big booming Broadway showtunes.   Both styles offer snatches of beauty and brilliance, but it doesn’t always make for a satisfying listening experience.  While I admire Streisand as an amazing vocalist she seems to make great singles on otherwise mediocre albums.   Since Streisand doesn’t write most of her material she’s dependent upon the songwriters she chooses.  (I have a tough time believing there’s a producer in the world who could say to Barbra Streisand  “Here, sing this”).

Love Is the Answer (sort of a generic title, incidentally), is produced by Krall and she plays on it along with her quartet.  Those are red flags, but I predict this will be Streisand’s show all the way.   After all, who buys a Streisand album for the music?    It’s her distinct voice that’s the steak and the musical accompaniment merely the sauted onions on top.

Since I write about jazz  for AllAboutJazz.com, I asked the editor if the site had received an advance copy for review.  Apparently not, because Columbia doesn’t need to prime the pump for Streisand.  Her base of support is vast and enthusiastic.  If she wants to sing country, rap or the Manhattan phone book it will sell.   What critics think of her slumming  on the corner of jazz and ballads won’t affect the album sales one way or another.

I’ll  have to pull $14,99 from my own wallet if I want to review the album.  The last Streisand album to enter my home was my wife buying The Broadway Album in 1985.  Oh, the sacrifices I have to make for truth, justice and protecting the public from poseurs fakin’ the funk.

Streisand has been making records since 1963 and has dabbled with everything from disco to soft rock, so an album of jazz standards was probably only a matter of time.   It is a bit of a head scratcher that she waited so long to do it.   More likely than not Love Is the Answer is a one-and-done for an artist who is both blessed with a magnificent instrument and plagued by finding a suitable challenge for it.

Let’s put it this way.  Watch LeBron James going through the motions during some meaningless game on the interminable slog that is the NBA regular season and while he’s not precisely going through the motions, you can see he’s not going balls out.  If anything, James has to hustle just to keep himself interested when he’s playing against one of the many bottom-feeders of the  league.

Streisand can  probably identify with James.  Her own abilities so often overwhelm the material she has to work with and  it makes me wonder what mind games she has to play to keep herself psyched up.

Will Love is the Answer change my belief La Femme Barbra’s pipes or trepidation about the hit-and-miss quality of her albums?   I’m open to the possibility that it might.  There’s no possibility I’m going to change my mind that Diana Krall is an overpraised and underwhelming mediocrity.  Some things I just won’t give ground on.

When Babs meets Di things could go very right or very bad.

When Babs meets Di it's a legend and a lightweight.