Picks and Pans Review: Higher Ground

updated 12/08/1997 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/08/1997 AT 01:00 AM EST

Barbra Streisand

Her first studio album since 1993 may be a collection of inspirational songs (dedicated to Virginia Kelley, President Clinton's late mother), but Streisand sounds as if she could use a little boost herself. While mover-and-shaker songs like Sounds of Blackness's 1991 R&B tune "Optimistic" and Bette Midler's hit "From a Distance" were so effective because those artists infused them with holy spirit and joyous uplift, Higher Ground numbers such as "Deep River" and the title cut, lovely as they are, sound too plodding and mournful to offer much motivation. Streisand still maneuvers that famous soprano with the amazing precision of a great brain surgeon, but she spends too much time fussing over technique. Only when an energized Streisand urges Celine Dion in one duet to wear her lovesick heart on her sequined sleeve does Streisand seem to get the point: If you're going to inspire, you've got to sound inspired. (Columbia)

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