Well, our paths have crossed again. I heard the single of "Stoney End" on the car radio and it sounded pretty good. It rocked, even. Then, I saw this album with the classy picture of Barbra in a funky old pickup in the middle of the Mojave or somewhere and liked that, too. Then, I saw that she was produced by Richard Perry, backed up by a bunch of studio rock musicians and some heavy female singers, including Merry Clayton, and did some very fine, contemporary material. So, I got it.
I'm a little disappointed, but it could have been worse. It's like running into an old friend who voted for Humphrey. Now he has long hair and a peace symbol, but still wears a tie. Not a radical change, but one for the better.
Stoney End runs hot and cold. Some of the cuts are really dynamite and some are holdovers from the days of musical comedies. It isn't an easy transition to make. The musical world Barbra knocked over and owned from age 18 was a professional one. Songs were written by songwriters for professional, trained singers. Rock is a folk music, of sorts. Consequently, Barbra has to restrain herself to do some of these songs. When she does, she's good.
She starts off with Joni Mitchell's "I Don't Know Where I Stand," and handles it pretty delicately. She loses the little-girl-lost quality it comes with; it's big city now. "No Easy Way Down," by Goffin-King, starts off old Streisand and then breaks into a real uptown soul arrangement. One thing about her, she's learned how to hold off an orchestra.
The easiest material for her to handle are the three Laura Nyro songs she does. What makes it really easy is, she sounds just like Laura Nyro. Not too strangeone's from the Bronx and one's from Brooklyn. Anyway, whoever picked them picked three good ones: "Flim Flam Man," "Time and Love" and "Stoney End." She adds nothing to the originals, but I was surprised to hear them done so well.
The poorest cuts are the ones that are either overproduced or just reminiscent of the old school. She gets it on in "Free The People," but it doesn't sound right, when done so precisely. Nilsson's "Maybe" probably was pretty much schlock in the first place. And "Just A Little," by Mann-Weill, is merely traditional.
The most unlikely combination, and the best thing on the record is "If I Could Read Your Mind She does it at least as well as Lightfoot. The arrangement, features two or three guitars, is perfect and Barbra plays it straight -no showoff - and makes it mean something. It sounds like a hit.
Stoney End shows that Barbra Streisand can sing, and could be relevant, although I don't expect droves of rock fans to rush out and buy this. I'd be surprised if they hated it, though. And the next step, of course, is for her to get three or four sidemen and work on some original material...no, that could never be. Could it?
(Posted: Apr 1, 1971)
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