In the liner notes to this collection of previously unreleased material, co-producer Jay Landers paints a picture of the Barbra Streisand vault, where hundreds of boxes -- ranging from '60s acetates to '90s 48-track tapes to Pro Tools "cases" -- apparently sit waiting for their first issue. It's curious, then, that Release Me only includes 11 songs. Chalk it up perhaps to Streisand's heavy hand on the controls of her career, which never lets a song spring forth until its impact has been studied and predicted. (Of course, her career is hers alone, and it's difficult to argue with the high personal standard she's maintained during her 50-year career; it should also be noted that in 1991, she released a rarities-heavy box set titled Just for the Record....) Ranging from 1967 to 2011, Release Me shows that she and Landers certainly chose well. The results provide as pretty a picture of Streisand's talents and interests as the best compilation ever could. All of the varied pop scenes she touched over the years are represented here, from Broadway to the Bergmans to A Star Is Born to Jimmy Webb and Randy Newman, although of course, her long and varied career makes her able to do no more than dip a toe in the waters of those pools. The Webb cover, "Didn't We," is a highlight, as is the Newman song, "I Think It's Going to Rain Today," recorded in New York in 1970 with only Newman's piano for tender, expressive accompaniment. The standard "Willow Weep for Me" is given one of its best ever versions, including even Billie Holiday's (originally recording the song in 1967, Streisand nabbed arranger Ray Ellis, famed for his Lady in Satin charts). One of her career landmarks, A Star Is Born, is represented by "With One More Look at You," in a forgotten studio version -- since she insisted on singing the song live while filming, and that was the version used on the soundtrack. It's hard to complain when the results are this stunning, but including not even a dozen songs on this compilation (rumored to be only the first) is liable to break just a few fans' hearts; based on what can be heard here, some fans would rather hear more like this than eat.
AllMusic Review by John Bush