Barbra Streisand, ‘What Matters Most’
Five decades into her career and Barbra Streisand still doesn’t need much else to sell a song than her voice. And so it goes, launching her first album since 2009, an all-new, 10-tune LP with her favorite Alan and Marilyn Bergman-written songs (also available in a deluxe edition with already-released tracks), with just that sublimely enchanting, untouched-by-time instrument of hers. The Academy Award-winning song, called “The Windmills of Your Mind,” is breathtakingly beautiful with its gradual orchestra swell that never feels like too much, wisely letting Streisand’s voice carry the melody. She also fully commands on the following track, “Something New in My Life,” which reaches that diva climax that gets so many of her gay fans going. The same goes for “The Same Hello, The Same Goodbye,” which catapults into a string-surging wallop that has her opening her voice enough to swallow the world – it’s gorgeous. Streisand mostly sticks to ballads, but they’re broken up by the buoyancy of “That Face,” originally written in 1957 and made popular by Fred Astaire, and Frank Sinatra’s “Nice ‘n’ Easy,” which eases into the traditional take with just some slinky instrumentation. Anyone who’s loved Babs before is bound to love this perfect-for-a-rainy-day project; it’s simple, elegant and so Streisand, who – despite the timeless songs and full orchestra – is clearly what matters most on this album. Grade: B+
Joss Stone, ‘LP1’
Joss Stone tore up the Grammy stage with Melissa Etheridge years ago during “Piece of My Heart,” and that must have been enough for the lesbian rocker to rub off on the British 24-year-old. No, Stone isn’t lezzie, too – but she’s a gritty spitfire on her latest album, newly independent, without the commercial sheen and, as addressed on set-starter “Newborn,” ready to do her own thing (she’s the girl who “doesn’t give a shit” on this one). This new rocker-chick direction finds Stone going all out with the guitars, a shift from the R&B run she had ever since the release of “The Soul Sessions” in 2003. Eight years later, she’s talking like she’s out for blood; on “Karma,” which sounds like an Etheridge song through and through, she has a “loaded gun” for her man who’s “the bitch.” They sound like true threats coming from Stone, who sings with as much conviction as a Southern Baptist preacher. That’s especially true of “Last One to Know,” which practically bursts at the seams during the final third of the song, building into a drum-banging, belt-crazy lash out. But for all the hard-ass edge on Stone’s “LP1,” the music itself feels a little too linear and without enough variety to sustain its 10 tunes. But you have to start somewhere, and it’s not a bad place for a new beginning. Grade: B-
‘Glee: The 3D Concert Movie (Motion Picture Soundtrack)’
What can’t “Glee” do? It can champion in ratings, churn out hits and piss off homophobes. And it can sell out live shows, which is what the show did this year, resulting in a movie – and this soundtrack. Essentially, it’s not any different than listening to the polished covers on the umpteen compilations. But now there’s something extra for you: the sounds of screaming, Finn-crazy girls. It’s the price you pay, Gleeks, if you want to hear live takes on show faves like “Don’t Stop Believin'” and “Somebody to Love.” And it’s also worth it when Rachel belts out “Don’t Rain on My Parade” and duets with Kurt on “Happy Days Are Here Again/Get Happy.” Fine, “Glee,” you win… again.
Graffiti6, ‘Annie You Save Me’
The four songs on this EP is all it takes for this British duo to leave an impression. The title track, and first single, busts out of pop confines with a cool psychedelic British soul vibe, sung in Jamie Scott’s sexy, emotionally resonant voice. The dude looks as good as he sounds, even when he’s tempering Blackstreet’s “No Diggity” – the kind of cover that reality-show TV judges go crazy over. Besides a wonky, space-y remix of “Annie You Save Me,” there’s the acoustic “Free,” a wonderfully soulful ditty done on guitar. At just a few songs, there are enough appetizers here to make you hungry for the full meal.