In the past five decades, Barbra Streisand has managed to release more than 60 albums, sell 140 million albums worldwide—making her the best-selling female artist on the RIAA’s Top Selling Artists list—and is one of only a handful of artists to have number-one albums in five consecutive decades. With a career that expansive, it should come as no surprise that she has managed to construct a vault of innumerable unreleased recordings. From that vault, Streisand has chosen 11 of her favorite songs that span from 1963 to the present, which are featured on her new compilation album, Release Me, available everywhere October 9.
The entire mood of the album is a pacified one; you’re not going to hear any uptempo, “Don’t Rain on My Parade”-esque songs on this album. It’s an album that would absolutely complement a rainy day. With that being said, the irony of the title of the album’s first track, “Being Good Isn’t Good Enough”, isn’t lost. To say that this album is “good” would be a flagrant example of underemphasis. Streisand herself said of the album, “The thing I’m happiest about is that I still have great affection for all these songs. They appealed to me at the time… and still do. Listening now, I actually think to myself, ‘The girl wasn’t half bad.’” Let it never be said that Barbra is immodest. Streisand’s trademark mezzo-soprano voice is the stuff of legend and it’s on full display.
One of the most endearing features of the album is that almost all of the tracks were transferred from first generation master tapes, meaning in-studio banter is sometimes audible, as is the case with “Being Good Isn’t Good Enough”, “Willow Weep for Me”, “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today”, and “Home”, as well as at the conclusion of “How Are Things in Glocca Morra? / Heather on the Hill (from Finian’s Rainbow / Brigadoon)” where Streisand critiques her own performance: “Not bad”. That’s the understatement of the century. In “Being Good Isn’t Good Enough”, Streisand can be heard expressing her surprise that she’s already on her eighth take without actually ever having been able to sing the song all the way through and describing the recording session as “a cockeyed system” before flawlessly belting out the song in one take, originally intended for inclusion on her 1985 masterpiece, The Broadway Album. On “Home”, Barbra playfully jokes, “I wanna go home” seconds before beginning what is one of the more exemplary songs on the album. These simple audio prefaces are interesting in that they give insight into not only Streisand herself, but also the mood and method of the recording conclaves.
Additionally, all of Streisand’s vocals are the raw vocals from the original sessions, meaning they have not been altered or touched up in any way. When you keep that in mind as you listen to her masterfully croon and trill her way through the album, how any of these songs were deemed unsuitable for album subsumption becomes a baffling notion.
Besides the aforementioned tracks, “Didn’t We” and “Try to Win a Friend” are personal highlights.
I think perhaps Streisand herself sums up this album best when she sings, “I’ll be the best or nothing at all” (“Being Good Isn’t Good Enough”). With that line, she perfectly illustrates the prevailing theme of this album.