Barbra Streisand

Higher Ground

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As Barbra Streisand's first studio album of mainstream pop material in nine years, Higher Ground is something of an oddity. Instead of devoting herself to Broadway standards or a set of radio-oriented pop tunes, Streisand has crafted a record that she intended as a tribute to the power of music as prayer. It's an ambitious project, but for the most part it works, achieving a surprising grace. Higher Ground comprises both traditional religious songs and new material (even "Tell Him," an overblown duet with Celine Dion, vaguely touches on that theme), with grandiose arrangements by Marvin Hamlisch. Although Streisand and Hamlisch still favor sweeping strings and bold statements -- so much so that many of the songs sound remarkably similar to each other, in terms of dynamics and arrangements -- the album retains its power thanks to her subtle interpretations of melody and lyrics. The end result might not quite match her latter-day masterpieces, but it's another strong addition to her catalog.

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