What Matters Most
REVIEW BY: Mark Millan
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/19/2012
Husband and wife lyricists Alan and Marilyn Bergman first met Barbra Streisand when the superstar was just eighteen years old. The trio became fast friends and has since worked together on many occasions across Streisand’s incredible career. Some of her biggest ever hits (“The Way We Were” and “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers”) sported lyrics penned by the couple. It seems Babs has been recalling all of these memories lately because to follow up her glorious 2009 album (Love Is The Answer) she has chosen to dedicate an entire album to the Bergmans’ lyrics.
What Matters Most is Streisand’s 33rd studio album and consists of ten Bergman songs that she has never before recorded, and as she writes in the liner notes, this makes 63 Bergman songs she has now recorded. Barbra produced the album herself and it seems making her previous record with Diana Krall has inspired her to maintain a jazzy feel across this one, as the pair, when played consecutively, sound completely seamless.
Streisand is now 69 years old and yes, her voice is showing signs of aging (finally) as she gets a little scratchy when reaching for the highest of high notes at times, most notably on “Alone In The World.” This though doesn’t bother me at all, as I think it adds character to these songs. If that’s all that’s going to happen to her golden voice then bless her, because other than that she still sounds freaking incredible. All of these songs sound wonderful and the arrangements are just beautiful; these come courtesy of Bill Ross, whom Babs credits as knowing exactly how to build a song around her voice.
This, for a singer like Streisand, is an invaluable quality for an arranger to have, even more so when the singer is producing herself. Barbra sings these songs like she’s acting a role for film; each performance succeeds in conveying every emotion written into the lyrics, whether it’s melancholy (“The Same Hello, The Same Goodbye”) or sheer joy (“That Face”). Some of the better known songs are taken from movie soundtracks that the Bergmans worked on, and those selected here are perfect for this project as they have been molded to compliment the rest of the material so well.
Opener “The Windmills Of Your Mind” (from The Thomas Crown Affair) and “Something New In My Life” (from Miki & Maude) are two definite highlights that Streisand breathes new life into with ease, both songs sticking faithfully to Michael Legrand’s original compositions. “I’ll Never Say Goodbye” (from The Promise) is given a more understated arrangement here, which fits very well with overall vibe of the album, Streisand’s voice over the bridge is magnificent and opens the song up superbly.
Another clear standout is the lovely closer “What Matters Most,” on which a couple reflects on the things that matter most during a life spent together. These sentiments can often sound incredibly mushy when translated into song but not here. Babs just gives a wonderful reading that somehow makes you think about so much more than the simple words she is singing.
Backed by a symphonic orchestra (conducted by Ross) with help from some of the finest session players around, this icon of entertainment can add another triumph to her illustrious career that is already full of them. What Matters Most is a pretty remarkable album and Barbra Streisand is one very remarkable woman.