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Album review: Barbra Streisand, "One Night Only Barbra Streisand and Quartet at The Village Vanguard"

Barbra Streisand is in classic form on her new album/DVD. (Firooz Zahedi)

By Allison Stewart

One night last September, Barbra Streisand promoted the release of her then-new disc "Love Is the Answer" with a special show at the legendary Greenwich Village club the Village Vanguard. The overly manicured and relentlessly dull "Love" had refashioned Streisand as a late-night jazz chanteuse; the new live CD/DVD package "One Night Only: Barbra Streisand and Quartet at the Village Vanguard" imagines her as a down-to-earth diva and breezy raconteur.

In a tiny room packed with friends, contest winners, Upper East Side society matrons and assorted celebrities, Streisand sang, joked, schmoozed, allowed herself to be photographed from her usually verboten right side and generally acted like an alternate universe, just-us-folks-Barbra.

The end result is equally awe-inspiring and improbable, the Streisand of a thousand "Coffee Talk" fantasies, full in voice, singing "Evergreen" for the umpteen millionth time and not even seeming like she minded.

(Remarkable range, remarkable lack of sweat, after the jump.)

A few observations:

Streisand's legendary range is still remarkable, and intact. Backed by an uncommonly adept four-piece band, she liberated the best tracks on "Love" ("Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most" and "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning," both much sprightlier) from their glossy, too-careful studio versions, and set new benchmarks for standards such as "My Funny Valentine" and "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered."

"One Night Only" is as much about Streisand the storyteller as it is Streisand the singer. The CD version best demonstrates Streisand's enduring vocal mastery, but the many digressions about, among other things, Marlon Brando, obscure Broadway productions and former president Bill Clinton's late mother, Virginia, break up the flow. It's better watched than listened to.

Streisand loves celebrities. The camera lingered on them throughout the evening, as did Streisand. There were lengthy shout-outs to Hillary and Bill Clinton, who attended, as Streisand pointed out, with daughter Chelsea and her boyfriend, whose presence on history's most embarrassing double date is now preserved for all eternity. Streisand's husband, James Brolin, is also prominently featured. Protective-seeming, white-bearded, he resembled a really good-looking Santa Claus, and towered distractingly over the rest of the audience. Either he is freakishly tall, or he was sitting on a box.

Streisand does not sweat. Even in a steamy club, sardined on a tiny stage ("It's hard to have stage fright when there's practically no stage!"),while wearing a sweater. By the end of the night, even Sarah Jessica Parker (in the front row, verklempt during "The Way We Were") looked like she needed to be rinsed down with a hose. Streisand, the likely beneficiary of Cybill Shepherd-style camera filters, looked perfect. Even her blowout survived.

Recommended tracks:
From the CD: "Nobody's Heart (Belongs to Me)," "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most"
From the DVD: "The Way We Were," "Evergreen," "If You Go Away (Ne Me Quitte Pas)"

By David Malitz  |  May 4, 2010; 9:00 AM ET
Categories:  Album reviews  | Tags: Barbra Streisand  
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Next: Album review: Toni Braxton, "Pulse"

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