Barbra Streisand, "Love is the Answer"
Love may be the answer on Barbra Streisand's first studio set since 2005, but the question is: How slow can you go? Paired with Diana Krall as producer (and pianist) and Johnny Mandel as arranger, Streisand gives her trademark romantic-ballad treatment to 13 well-known standards, including Jacques Brel and Rod McKuen's "If You Go Away" and "Make Someone Happy," from the musical "Do Re Mi." Krall-who marks her debut as a producer on another artist's album -supplies traces of the jazz-club detail that Streisand outgrew decades ago, as heard when the singer quotes the song "How Insensitive" during a Brazilian-inflected rendition of "Gentle Rain." The deluxe version of "Love Is the Answer" comes with a second disc of alternate takes featuring Streisand accompanied only by Krall's quartet, a back-to-basics experiment that may have inspired the singer's Sept. 26 appearance at New York's Village Vanguard. Still, there's no doubting whose show this is-only Streisand could turn "Here's to Life" into such a soft-focus weeper. --Mikael Wood