If you’re surprised that Barbra Streisand’s first album of original new music in over a decade is led off by a blistering indictment of the current US administration, you probably haven’t been keeping up with her Twitter. Or her Huffington Post articles. Or the speeches she’s been giving for decades.
In short, this trailblazer for women in the entertainment industry, with a voice as striking and capable at 76 as it was when she was 19, has been fiercely outspoken for as long as she’s had a platform to be heard. Her latest album, “Walls”, offers a range of commentary from the passionate cry of “Don’t Lie To Me” (its video a relentless sequence of images of Donald Trump, incarcerated children, protesters, a crumbling empire and a burning world) to the soaring, orchestral mashup of “Imagine” with “What a Wonderful World”. “It struck me”, Streisand says, that “the two songs combined ask us to imagine what a wonderful world it would be… if we could somehow build more bridges than walls.”
We live in a world where walls are not just a representation of shelter, self-protection or division, but a charged political symbol. Streisand takes on all the implications in this album, rounded out with covers such as the Bacharach/David pop standard “What The World Needs Now.” The penultimate song that Streisand sings is a timely one called “Take Care Of This House” by the legendary composer Leonard Bernstein and lyricist Alan Jay Lerner—once sung by the American opera star Frederica von Stade at the inauguration of Jimmy Carter.
Streisand’s vocal prowess is undeniable on “Walls”. Supple, velvety and strong, her instrument has every bit the emotional and dynamic range it ever had, now shaped with the finesse and craft of a seasoned master. Like a Stradivarius violin, its timbres have only gotten richer and more responsive with the passing of time.
A longtime producer and director in her own right, Streisand shares production and arrangement credits on the new album with Walter Afanasieff, John Shanks and David Foster – all Grammy recipients for Producer of the Year – and Songwriter Hall of Fame recipient Desmond Child. Streisand’s vision also comes through on the defining title track “Walls,” with lyrics written for the album by revered Streisand collaborators Alan & Marilyn Bergman.
Streisand said that it was President Kennedy who first suggested the creation of the National Endowment for the Arts. Aware that art can be controversial, he understood that the artist “must often sail against the currents of his time. This is not a popular role.” Streisand says artists who have met with success and popularity have not just the right but the responsibility to risk unpopularity by being active in this role. So she is committed to speaking out for equality and full rights for all.
And what does she say about “Don’t Lie To Me”? “In my own four-minute way, I’m trying to fight against the disintegration of democracy – where truth becomes “alternative facts” and lying becomes the new norm.”
In short, “Walls” is true to form and true to voice. Barbra Streisand has reasserted her relevance and timeliness while showing why she still commands the attention of the music industry and the hearts of her fans.