Higher Ground

Barbra Streisand

Columbia Records, 1997




Barbra Streisand albums have been, ultimately, Here's Babs Singing in one form or other. Of course, a couple of them have been Here's Babs Singing ... BROADWAY!!! which sold like crazy. In any case, coherence has always been the biggest problem in Streisand albums. Most of them have no concept, albums being annoying things to keep up her popularity, to fill the space between making movies, to have enough money to water her Malibu ranch. There were stabs at rock music, a poppy Bee Gees collaboration and lots of half-hearted soundtracks. Truth is, her singles were legends ... her albums were afterthoughts.

Higher Ground is centered on remembering the people who have gone by. Such songs are popular nowadays; "One Sweet Day" and "I'll Be Missing You" have the long runs on Billboard, and the new one by Elton John ("Candle In The Wind '97") is slated to be the mother of them all. Despite arriving at such an atmosphere, and the fact that it's a Streisand album, it makes for some surprising failings in the long run.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The title track's backing instrumentals don't live up to her singing. This lack of interaction makes for an awkward rendition which sets the pattern for the rest of the album. "On Holy Ground" has Streisand so out of her element trying to sound in-gospel, she's classically oversinging which is something she's usually not prone to do.

It's a little difficult to believe that "Leading With You Heart" was made by the same people who did "The Way We Were." The Bergmans know how to control her voice which makes for a comfortable track to both singer and listener, but it's overall quite bland; at least "Ordinary Miracles" had high notes. "Lessons to Be Learned" sounds dangerously whinny ("WHHHHHHY d'I get buuuuuuurned???"), and still bland.

Her collaboration with Celine Dion on "Tell Him" sharply contrast Dion's self-damaging technique and Streisand's lush preservation vocals, bringing out the worst in the former. "If I Could" brings Broadway into the mix but it won't satisfy fans of the Great White Way. Anyone else would've; this is Streisand. Not with "Not While I'm Around" around.

But buried in this are some salvageable material. "Circle" and "At the Same Time" first made me think it was another everyone-get-out-on-the-streets-and-hold-hands anthem but the open wonder present in her voice is quite extraordinary. The medley "The Water is Wide/Deep River" is one of her more soulful songs yet, as "I Believe/You'll Never Walk Alone" enhances two otherwise corny, well-covered songs.

The best tracks come at the end of the album. "Everything Must Change" reminds me of "All in Love is Fair," but more sophisticated thanks to its less-is-more arrangement. A soon-to-be Streisand classic is "Avinu Malkeinu," in which you can wallow in the sheer warm purity of her voice, appropriating images of Streisand's vocal cords being touched by God.

The photos sum it up. She looks gorgeous in all the photos ... except the cover. Songs that, from the outside, should've worked but somehow manages to miss in the last crucial moment. Just like margarine.

Rating: B

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© 1997 JB and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Columbia Records, and is used for informational purposes only.