Digital Audio & Compact Disc Review
Barbra Streisand Stages a Hit
by Rod McKuen
I bought the LP version of Barbra Streisand's The Broadway Album the day it was released. Despite its awful pressing, it knocked me out. The chrome tape was even better. I had to have the CD, which I knew wouldn't be released for another month.
I called a mutual friend, writer Marilyn Bergman. She told me that there was only one test copy of the CD, and Barbra had it. "But if you like the album that much, I'll try to get it for you," she said.
The CD arrived by messenger the next afternoon. Hearing it was like never having heard the album. The CD transcends any pop production this medium has enlivened since CD-one.
I wanted an interview.
Barbra Streisand: I've been making lists for this album for a long time. It seems like forever. I love the songs we recorded, and left out as many as those that made the final disc.
Rod McKuen: How hard did you have to fight to make The Broadway Album?Streisand: It's always a fight. Everything. If you believe in something, there isn't any other way. Look how long it took me to finance Yentl. Nobody wanted to see a movie about a young Jewish boy. . ..
Even the Yentl soundtrack album was a fight. Columbia didn't expect it to sell at all, but it has sold over 3.5 million copies.
R.McK.: Millions of people have never seen you in concert, and you've been quoted as saying you won't sing in public again . Why not film every track of Broadway and make a concert video?
Streisand: Are you kidding? With the energy that would take I could do another movie.
We did a half-hour "Making of The Broadway Album" for HBO, which includes me recording "Putting It Together. " I was very "up" because there was an audience, but—Can you believe it?—it turned out we could only do one take.
What you'll see on the special is all there was, because the 24-track master tape was "accidentally" erased. This has never happened to me before, not in 20 years of recording. The sound you'll hear on the song is taken off a 2-track Nagra. Unbelievable.
R.McK.: The CD version of The Broadway Album sounds so totally different and so much better than the LP.
Streisand: I never want to hear vinyl again!
I took all the EQ off the tape for the CD. Because of the dynamics on "Somewhere, '' [CBS] didn't want it as a [closing track]—too hard to cut and get the full range that close to the end of the disc. The first master tape I heard had everything squeezed flat; the song lost its build.
For the CD, I cranked up the volume on ''Somewhere." That was an overreaction to what I heard on the LP test pressing; [but] I brought it back to its natural level.
You really have to get involved in every aspect of an album. It's like making a movie. I had someone at the plant when the cover was being printed to make sure the color was exactly what I wanted on the liner. Did you notice how it matched the color of my hat on the cover? It's a concept, all of it, and it has to work together.
R.McK.: Alan and Marilyn Bergman's liner notes were as finely crafted as one of their songs.
Streisand: You really liked them?
R.McK.: Yes, (referring to the LP now) but I wouldn't have discovered them if they hadn't accidentally fallen out of the jacket. The cover should have been a double-fold.
Streisand: Listen ... I was lucky enough to be able to do the album. I wanted a two-record set. That was absolutely out. But I still got in 18 songs.
I've always wanted to do "Adelaide's Lament." I was glad the extra time available on CD enabled me to include it. There are so many songs I want to do. Broadway really is my roots.
R.McK.: But you're cutting back on recording.
Streisand: Broadway has kept me away from directing for eight months. I have to get back to making movies. It's a question of how many battles you can gear up for every year. The record business has changed so much.
R.McK.: You know this is the best album you've ever made, And it probably will be the biggest selling album you've ever had.
Streisand: I don't know. There were so many people against it.
R.McK.: Not so many now?
Streisand: Well, when an album starts to happen ....
Compact Disc Review
Barbra Streisand: The Broadway Album
Orchestrator, Conductor: Peter Matz Additional Arrangements: Richard Baskin, Jeremy Lubbock, Randy Waldman, Bob Esty, Paul Jabara, Sid Ramin, David Foster, Barbra Streisand
Producers: Barbra Streisand, Peter Matz
Columbia CK 40092 (AAD)
Total disc time: 48:58
This is it. The best pop CD so far, bar none.
The Broadway Album isn't an all-digital recording, and has no gimmicks. The only ground it breaks is to be cohesive, brilliantly performed, and almost perfectly recorded.
The CD has no dull or extraneous tracks; the programming is perfect. The songs by Jerome Kern, Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein, Leonard Bernstein, Frank Loesser, George Gershwin, DuBose Heyward, and Stephen Sondheim are superb examples of each composer's and lyricist's work.
Peter Matz' orchestrations surpass everything he has done before, and fuse perfectly with David Foster's and Jeremy Lubbock's restrained electronics. Already generous in its content, the CD offers an additional track to bring the song selection to 18.
Listeners who thought they were familiar with Streisand's voice will be surprised to find what returning to good songs has done for her remarkable instrument-now so refined and controlled. She makes each song sound as if it was written especially for her.
None were, though Streisand persuaded perfectionist Sondheim to add a new and relevant lyric to his already perfect "Send In the Clowns." She also convinced Sondheim to tinker with some of his other compositions to make them just right for this project.
Although many of the songs are standards, Streisand's approach to muchrecorded material is to reinterpret lyrics and musical phrases. In doing so, she never negates the original versions or makes them obsolete.
No other pop CD has managed to combine such wonderful material with performances so deeply felt and accessible on every level.
I'd mortgage the house and kids on a bet that Streisand's ''Send In the Clowns," released as a single, would go straight to the top of the charts-despite the fact that it's already been a hit for Judy Collins.
And Streisand's reading of "If I Loved You" is the first original approach to this much-loved Rodgers and Hammerstein song since Jo Stafford made it her own in the late '50s.
I hate most medleys, but the three on The Broadway Album are well thoughtout and integrated. Contradictory statements fuse and make sense-because of the singer, not the songs.
"I Have Dreamed ... .. We Kiss in a Shadow," and "Something Wonderful" (from The King and I) are embroidered, not threaded, together. Five tracks later, Streisand pulls off the same miracle with diverse material from Porgy and Bess.
In another pairing, the lovely "Pretty Women," sung in slow-waltz time, meets "The Ladies Who Lunch," which is cradled gently in an infectious bossa nova rhythm. This is a knockout Streisand/Matz duet for voice and orchestra with an ending that even the hardest heart will chuckle at.
"Putting It Together," from Sunday in the Park With George, seems autobiographical for Streisand as well as for Sondheim, particularly in the author/ composer's revised version on this disc. The song's inner-outer rhyme scheme is typical of Sondheim's unique craftsmanship and unwillingness to compromise the lyric for the sake of the song, or vice versa.
Streisand, a product of musical comedy, doesn't ignore the comedy aspect on this CD. The CD's bonus track, "Adelaide's Lament, " from Guys and Dolls, is a cough, sneeze, wheeze delight. And there, amid the nasal rasping capable of blowing out an unsuspecting speaker, is singing as true to pitch as any on the disc.
The vocal on "Can't Help Lovin' That Man" is lyric singing at its best. Streisand sings the entire song out of tempo, accompanied only by strings, English horn, and a most restrained, absolutely appropriate, and truly lovely harmonica obbligato by Stevie Wonder.
The disc's lack of negativism is one of its great strengths. Only a real genius can turn every "down" line or thought into a high, particularly when the material comes from so many sources.
It Might As Well Be Digital
I have played this CD over and over, and am still discovering new things in it. The Broadway Album is an original musical work all its own. No other pop CD has managed to combine such wonderful material with performances so deeply felt and accessible on every level.
The superb sound might as well be digital-and no digitally recorded pop album can touch this one in terms of pure, honest-to-goodness musicality. The Broadway Album isn't just the best recording Streisand has ever made. It is the best all-around pop album produced in the last decade.
DIGITAL AUDIO, FEBRUARY 1986
Related Page: The Broadway Album discography page >>
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