Yes, it's the ultimate sign of superstar fame when your last name can be deep-sixed. So it is that Streisand's latest - her first full-length set of new studio recordings in four years - bears only Barbra (above the title, of course).
To some it might seem that in recent years she's become famous for being famous, for the legend, for the connections to movers and shakers (on the inner sleeve she prints a chorus she added to "Make Someone Happy" and dedicated to then-Senator Obama! OK. We get the point.)
But what about the music? What about Barbra (if we may use just the one name) as an artist?
No worries. The first step in keeping the reputation intact is taking on board Diana Krall as producer and musician, and adding Johnny Mandel to smooth it all out with the orchestration. Wrap it up with a selection of wonderful songs and there you have it.
Already near the top of the Billboard album charts, the disc offers up its full, rich sound from the opening "Here's To Life." It's smooth without being overpowering; it's understated. Streisand sings with what seems to be no effort, yet manages to embrace each song and stamp her own inimitable personality on it. She and Krall's piano mesh just right on "In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning," and a hint of a Latin rhythm adds to enjoyment of "Gentle Rain."
If there's a caveat - though it's obviously not one shared by all listeners - it's that the disc's tempo is subdued throughout. There's no sense of fun or exuberance, no spirited rhythms to add life and contrast, although over the years there have been many classic songs expressing love in that manner.
Even the track "Love Dance" is a slow dance.
- RICHARD PATON
Creating a musical backdrop for a film about the zany world of all-girl roller derby would have been a daunting enough task when the sport was actually in its heyday in the 1970s, let alone trying to modernize it with the complexities of the music world in 2009.
This disc, though, does a pretty good job of bringing home the girl power-meets-punk rock message, starting with the attitude-infused, uptempo sound of Nebraska indie-pop quintet Tilly And The Wall on the opening number, "Pot Kettle Black." Think Go-Gos but with a stronger rock edge and lyrics that have way too much sass to be bottled and published in a family newspaper.
The rest of the album is as delightfully off-center as you would expect a Drew Barrymore project to be, an intriguing mix of indie rock and trippy songs augmented by a careful and thankfully short walk through Archive Land for hits from the Ramones to the Raveonettes to Dolly Parton to .38 Special (we could have lived without that last one).
Barrymore, who makes her directorial debut in the film, said she conceived the soundtrack as a mix tape. The disc includes a fine cover of the Association's 1967 hit, "Never My Love," by Har Mar Superstar (featuring Adam Green).
Maybe it's just because I'm a sucker for the harp, but one of the most weird, refreshing and memorable parts of this disc is a sensitive pop number entitled "Your Arms Around Me," by Swedish singer-songwriter Jens Lekman, featuring a background harp.
The liner notes carefully point out that, while you'd swear you have heard this stuff before, you haven't. It's all acoustic bluegrass deeply rooted in tradition and the legacy of the genre's legends. But these are mostly original compositions, a rarity in a musical form that has so much to pick from and interpret with individual styles.
The five members of the group formed the Rangers 10 years ago while they were students at the University of North Carolina/Chapel Hill. They were named emerging artist of the year at the 2006 International Bluegrass Music Awards, and their 1997 album, "Lovin' Pretty Women," was nominated as the group's album of the year.
Their reputation grew quickly via live shows and major festivals throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe. Here, with their fourth studio release, they artfully blend traditional instruments - guitar, banjo, mandolin, bass, and fiddle - with the tight harmonies that are the very the core of bluegrass.
In addition to the mainstay bluegrass theme of heartbreak, there are a couple of pleasant surprises on this album, such as a swaying cover of Merle Haggard's "I Must Be Somebody Else You've Known" and a thoughtful a capella take on Lead Belly's "Sylvie."
- KEN ROSENBAUM
Though it's an inconsistent mix of covers and original songs from the son of Chicago blues giant McKinley "Muddy Waters" Morganfield, "Born Lover" finishes strong and reminds listeners why Big Bill Morganfield won a W.C. Handy Award, the blues equivalent of a Grammy, for best new artist following his 1999 debut. When Big Bill's on, he's on - especially when he plays to his strength as a down-home Chicago guitarist and husky-voiced singer. - T.H.