Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Reverend's Reviews: Babs vs. Active Child

In one corner, we have a legendary, Grammy/Oscar/Emmy-winning superstar, Barbra Streisand. Opposite her is young, falsetto-singing upstart Active Child, a.k.a. former choirboy Patrick Grossi. Both are duking it out via new CDs being released today, and darn it if the young upstart doesn't come out on top... artistically speaking.

Don't get me wrong: I've loved Babs ever since her back-to-back triumphs while I was in high school of the movie Yentl and her Broadway Album. Of course, her career began nearly 20 years earlier in New York City, initially as a cabaret sensation and then as the triumphant headliner of Funny Girl, both on stage and screen. Streisand's vocal dynamics, clarity and showmanship have been unmatched. Now, though, she is approaching 70 and — as her new release makes clear — her voice isn't what it used to be.

What Matters Most satisfies Streisand's stated, long-desired effort to record an album of songs exclusively written by her longtime collaborators, Alan and Marilyn Bergman. The Bergmans won Academy Awards for their score of Yentl (with composer Michel Legrand) as well as for the title tune from the Streisand-starring hit, The Way We Were (which they co-wrote with Marvin Hamlisch). What Matters Most opens with Streisand singing another Bergman-penned Oscar winner, "The Windmills of Your Mind." Her diction is as impeccable as ever in this somewhat slowed-down cover, and the orchestrations throughout the new CD are lovely.

Sadly, it begins to become evident on the album's second track, "Something New in My Life," that Streisand should probably stop recording. She's been singing in a lower octave for a while now, which is to be expected as a singer ages and which was put to good use on her last, loungy CD, 2009's Love is the Answer. But here, Streisand's voice sounds harsh whenever she strains to reach a higher note at louder volume. This is confirmed by at least two other songs, "Alone in the World" and "The Same Hello, The Same Goodbye."

Perhaps seeing the writing on the wall, Streisand concludes What Matters Most with the elegiac song of the same name. In it, she sings that "what matters most is that we loved at all." This is presumably directed to the Bergmans but could also serve as a fitting farewell to her longtime fans. While I hate the prospect of never hearing Streisand sing something new after this, a true artist usually recognizes when their best work is behind them but will naturally endure.

As one recording artist enters their twilight, another is emerging. You Are All I See is Active Child's second CD — following last year's Curtis Lane — but the first that I've heard. It represents an amazing amalgamation of Grossi's angelic voice, ethereal music comprised of harp and strings, and 1980's synthesizer-manufactured sound. Active Child can perhaps best be considered the musical offspring of the Thompson Twins and Sarah Brightman, with a little Jimmy Somerville DNA thrown in for good measure.

From the opening title track on You Are All I See, I was hooked. "Playing House," featuring R&B singer How to Dress Well, is a standout, as is "See Thru Eyes." As a matter of fact, every song on Active Child's latest is a winner. Trust me: If you haven't heard of him, check him out. I think you'll be glad you did.

Reverend's Ratings:
What Matters Most: C
You Are All I See: A

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Blade California.

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