Thursday, October 30, 2014

"Stoney End" by Barbra Streisand (February, 1971)

Brad's Take:

I go to a lot of used record stores and I am convinced that every single household in America had at least one Streisand album in their vinyl collections. Because no matter what record store I'm in, no matter what town I'm in (big or small), there's at least a couple Streisand albums on the shelf, no fail. And with that said, I started getting curious. Why are there always so many Streisand albums at these stores, and why don't people want to own them anymore? So one day while I was at work, I Googled: "Best Barbra Streisand album" and her album People (1964) was her #1 best (according to I listened to a bit of that album until I realized my questions had been answered. It became obvious to me that her musical style just didn't age well, and couldn't be carried over into the 2000s the way that it did in the 60s and 70s. Also, I will note that on that same list on, Stoney End is ranked #20. So there's that.

With Stoney End, young producer Richard Perry gathered a bunch of songs that he thought Barbra would be able to make her own. They were going for a more upbeat, adult contemporary sound for this album rather than her typical Broadway/showtune style she was popular for. They pulled it off. 

Halfway into Stoney End I realized that I actually was enjoying it a lot more than I expected I would. I don't know if it's the song choices or if it's her powerful voice or what, but I liked it! I prefer this classic sound a lot more than the showtunesy stuff she is best known for. This is so much more enjoyable to me. 

The album contains songs written by the great Carole King, Randy Newman, Laura Nyro, and a few others. The songs chosen by Richard Perry are spot on. He did a wonderful job at finding songs that Barbra could put her own spin on and still have them sound great. 

If all of Barbra Streisand's music sounded like this, I would be able to understand why everyone had at least one album in their collections. Maybe her subsequent albums were more like Stoney End. I wouldn't really know, but I'm definitely curious to hear what followed this enjoyable little album.

Dad's Take:

I have to confess a bias up front. Barbra Streisand has always irritated me for some hard-to-define reason, although I recognize her immense talent and would have trouble coming up with a counter argument if you were to claim she was one of the greatest voices of my generation. There's no question that she deserves her status. Maybe it's just that, in general, I'm not a big fan of brassy voices. Maybe it's because there were a few years back in the day when, no matter how hard I tried, I could not escape from her songs, which were played constantly on the AM stations I listened to when I was ten.

I'll try to set that probably irrational bias aside and just listen.

Most of the songs here are lovely, and the production of some songs, like "I Don't Know Where I Stand," have a dream-like quality. Fun songs like "Hands Off the Man" are a kind of Broadway-Pop fusion that usually works pretty well. "Stoney End" was a sizable hit, and still sounds pretty good. I also really enjoy "Time and Love," a catchy little song with a clap-along white-soul rhythm featuring most of the singers who were featured in the movie "Twenty Feet From Stardom," as does "Free the People." I wasn't surprised to find out that "Stoney End" and "Time and Love" were written by the same person, Laura Nyro.

As Brad mentioned Babs really does justice to songs by some of the best songwriters of the time, like Carole King, Randy Newman, and Gordon Lightfoot. A few songs in and I'm enjoying it more than I really want to admit, although songs such as "If You Could Read My Mind," despite a very good performance, make me want to go listen to the original version. A few songs later and I'm starting to get bored. The super-clean, hyper-polished productions are starting to get to me. Did I just criticize it for being too professional, too well-done? Yeah, I guess I did.

Streisand shows a wide range of styles on this record. Broadway, torch songs, pop, standards. She even gets a little bluesy now and then. She showcases her legendary voice and versatility. In some cases, but certainly not all, it feels like the track is about the singer, not the song. At other times, she successfully interprets the song in a way that really makes you notice how good the song is. In the end though, to me it all sounds just a little too sterile. The songs seldom connect with me personally, even songs that do when performed by another artist. It's like the productions are so polished that I can't quite grasp them.When she manages to transcend the shiny surface, Streisand wins me over.

I enjoyed the album more--a lot more, actually--than I had expected, but I wasn't overly disappointed when it ended. Any problem I had with the record was admittedly my own. It's a very good record, performed flawlessly, and full of excellent songs. Overall, it's not quite my cuppa, but it definitely earns a place on our list.


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