Album: Barbra Streisand, Love Is the Answer, (Columbia)

More is more as La Streisand finds herself in thrall to Krall
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The Independent Culture

This new studio album (the first since 2005's Guilty Pleasures) by the best-selling female artist ever packs a considerable surprise punch.

On the face of it, it's not a Streisand album at all – it's a Diana Krall one. The Canadian singer-pianist not only acts as producer – along with her Svengali, music-biz bigwig Tommy LiPuma (with Babs taking an "Exec" role, natch) – she also plays piano throughout, in a quartet of her own favourite musicians. The orchestra is arranged and conducted by the great Johnny Mandel, who has worked with Krall since 1998. It's recorded at Krall's customary location, Hollywood's Capitol Studios, and the songs are all standards.

But – and here's the rub, and the reason why Love Is the Answer isn't just a second-hand rose: Streisand sings superbly, in a series of bravura vocal performances that more than make the album her own.

As a vocalist, her style is the exact opposite of Krall's less-is-more approach. With Babs, it's more and more and then some more again, please, although by her own standards this is a very restrained gig. But that inimitable anglicised, almost plummy diction, the trademark octave slides and a voice that remains – despite some signs of age – shockingly pure make this very different from the Krall effect, which rests upon an icy contrast between the lushness of Mandel's orchestrations and her own underplayed vocal economy of means.

This is where the choice of songs becomes crucial. When Babs does Krall-style bossa nova on Jobim's "Gentle Rain", it doesn't work, and "If You Go Away" is awful. But four of the 13 songs are very, very good: "Here's to Life" (associated with the late Shirley Horn, the real progenitor of the Krall style); "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most"; "Some Other Time" (famously covered by Tony Bennett and Bill Evans) and "You Must Believe in Spring".

The main problem with the repertoire, of course, is that despite the empathetic, Method-actor's interpretations of a spurned lover's role, it's very hard to read Streisand as anything but a winner. Here, she even gets to win twice: the deluxe version of the album comes with an additional CD of Barbra accompanied only by the quartet.