Review: A Funny Girl Revisits Her Past

Barbra Streisand/Release Me 2/Sony Legacy
Three out of Five Stars

Suffice it to say that within the entire span of modern popular music, from the ‘60s onward, few singers have shown the ability to emote with the purity and persuasion of Barbra Streisand. That statement is not without substance, given the fact that she’s been cited as the only female artist to score number one albums in each of the past six decades. And while her visibility may seem somewhat diminished in recent times, it hasn’t stopped her from continuing to set the standard as far as diva distinction is concerned.

With that in mind, it’s appropriate that she’s opted to take another turn digging through her back pages and excavating material that, for whatever reason, failed to find release at the time of its original recording. In 2012, she dug into the vaults for the first volume of Release Me, an archival collection of outtakes and rarities that encompassed an expansive era stretching from 1967 through 2011 while culling material specifically intended for, among others, the keynote albums Simply Streisand, Stoney End, The Broadway Album, Back to Broadway, and What Matters Most.

Release Me 2 follows the same formula, making for an ideal companion piece to its predecessor in particular, as well as every other offering in her expansive recorded canon. As always, it boasts some selective duets, most notably an unlikely co-bill with Willie Nelson on “I’d Want It To Be You.” When I’m on the road again, you’re always on my mind, Willie coos promptly Barbra to ask if she can grab a ride on his bus. Had the request been granted, one can only imagine that a hazy reprise of “When Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” might have resulted.

On the other hand, a performance with Kermit the Frog/Jim Henson on the schmaltzy standard “Rainbow Connection” offers a somewhat predictable performance. The song is a standard, after all, a guilty pleasure by any measure. Speaking of which, the real find comes in the form of “If Only You Were Mine,” an unused entry from Guilty Pleasures, the 2005 album that reprised her original pairing with Bee Gee Barry Gibb. So too, Streisand’s take on the Randy Newman classic “Living Without You,” originally intended for her classic Stoney End album, serves as a reminder that despite her middle-of-the-road reputation, Streisand could easily hold her own as a pure pop singer as well.

If there’s any complaint to be had at all, it’s the fact that these overarched ballads fail to find any real variety, given their overarched arrangements and somewhat stoic sensibility. An uptick in energy could have added some added distinction and made Release Me 2 more than merely a collection of billowy ballads sharing a singular thread. Nevertheless, Streisand’s flawless pitch upends the pacing and makes Release Me 2 another ideal compendium for any avowed completist.

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