Barbra's latest release is a revelatory change of pace for the diva who adopts an up close and personal approach to some lovely ballads, with experience and maturity ensuring this album equals or possibly surpasses her earlier efforts on which she explored the Great American Songbook before soaring upwards and onwards to claim a more pop-related reputation by combining strident vocal power with emotional overkill in order to clinch her claim to creative longevity and continued success.
LOVE IS THE ANSWER is better appreciated via this two-disc Deluxe Version as it parallels identical songs on two separate discs, with the main CD featuring the lush string-filled orchestral accompaniment of arranger/conductor Johnny Mandel, whilst the other pares its quieter ambience to the intimate jazz setting of Diana Krall's piano skills and musicians (guitar, bass, drums). Being the album's producer, Krall knows a thing or two about low-key vocal intensity as her "less is more" method follows in the footsteps of Peggy Lee and Shirley Horn so I imagine, considering the reputation of those two great ladies of song, it did not take too much persuasion for Barbra to see the wisdom of such an approach.
Of the superb song choices, HERE'S TO LIFE and Mandel's co-written A TIME FOR LOVE and HOW DO YOU START? were amongst the inspiring offerings of Horn's 1992 album which shares another common link with Barbra's latest by having Mandel on board as sympathetic arranger. With such riches it's difficult to pick other favourites but MAKE SOMEONE HAPPY (from the score of DO RE MI by Comden & Green/Jule Styne - the latter wrote the score of FUNNY GIRL with Bob Merrill) gives sublime advice to those in love, with Barbra coaxing emotion from the sugary lyrics; HERE'S THAT RAINY DAY carries so much emotional gravitas with its wonderful Shearing-styled interlude to ponder, whilst Luiz Bonfa's sensitive GENTLE RAIN (once recorded by Krall) retains its tender bossa-nova rhythms. IF YOU GO AWAY (NE ME QUITTE PAS) is not only a nod towards Jacques Brel's poetic genius but a reminder of Barbra's early career preference for French songs and lyrics. Retaining the Gallic theme, YOU MUST BELIEVE IN SPRING (from the 1967 movie, LES DEMOISELLES DE ROCHFORT) comes in just one version with Krall's low-keyed piano backing allowing the diva to score points with the Michel Legrand/Jacques Demy ballad usually associated with Bill Evans and Tony Bennett. I can even forgive Barbra's melody bending of SMOKE GETS IN YOUR EYES in order to grab emotional clarity at the gripping finale, especially as it works so well, and of course SOME OTHER TIME is one of the great farewell anthems and favourite of many cabaret songbirds with Barbra's final resigned "Oh well!" nailing this song as hers alone.
As a mood album of late-night meditations on love, heartbreak, resolve and acceptance, this collection hits its mark. As a Streisand album it rates high enough to just about outdo everything she has recorded over the past forty-seven years with the amazing revelation that with added nuance and depth her voice remains unimpaired by passing time. Her loyal fans will not be disappointed and it's very likely those who would never ever consider buying a Streisand album will be heading out for their copies in droves!