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BARRY MANILOW: SONGS FROM THE SEVENTIES

Review by Mark Wiechman

Stars:  Barry Manilow
Director:  David Mallet
Audio:  Dolby 2.0 and 5.1
Video:  Color Widescreen
Studio:  Rhino Records
Special Features:  See Review
Length:  75 Minutes
Release Date: January 28, 2008 

"Even now, when there's someone else who cares,

When there's someone home who's waiting just for me.

Even now, I think about you when I'm climbing up the stairs,

And I wonder what to do so she won't see..."

Film ***

So I will come right out of the closet here and admit that I love Barry Manilow's music.  The Even Now album was the first one I ever got when I was a kid, when Barry was one of the most popular entertainers in the world with Copacabana riding high on the charts. He was derided as being too pompous, overblown, and not very talented.  The first two might be true but the last is completely wrong.  He has written the music to many of the best tunes of the 1970's and his voice actually sounds better today than ever.  The naked emotion and sentimentality of his music was something most listeners loved but would not admit they loved almost like crying at the end of a great movie.   After passing the torch of uncool to Michael Bolton, he unexpectedly came back with his ferocious version of Unchained Melody, an incredibly hard song to sing, and like other older crooners he has recorded several albums of standards, and with his most recent collection he recorded ! several new versions of his best tunes, including a very moving stripped-down version of Even Now

Personally I have always thought that his music suffered from overproduction and that underneath all of the strings the music and vocals soared, and this DVD has proven me right.  He's still not cool, and continues to have far more female fans than male, but that is hardly a bad thing.  This DVD is a stong collection of his best known songs and his new takes on old standards.  Some work better than others, such as It Never Rains in Southern California with its slightly altered chord changes and Manilow angst is pretty good but not better than the original.  On the other hand, his new version of Copacabana with its excellent latin lead guitar and new zest gets the crowd on its feet and rightly so.  Deep down Manilow wants to be taken seriously as a jazz artist or a broadway composer, but he has written so many great songs, and continues to be an electric performer, so maybe he has finally gotten comfortable with his legacy.  I am puzzled why he does a medley of ! his best tunes which shortens them all, then does his medley of commercial jingles to cut into the classics time.  Though he does seem to still enjoy singing Mandy which ironically he arranged his own way rather than the Latin influenced way his then-producer, Tony Orlando recommended.  If Barry was not a gifted arranger he probably would still be writing jingles.

Like most musical careers Manilow's has featured many big hits that still sound great today, and a few that I am sure he wishes had never left the studio such as I Wanna Do It With You.  He seems less enthusiastic about the more upbeat things he has done more recently and even seems like he wants to rush through his oldies medley to get it over with to get to his versions of You've Got a Friend, although that tune lets his backup singers come out in front and have their moment in the spotlight.  I have waited years for him to do an "unplugged" solo show, and his last album is probably the closest he will come to doing that. 

As I write this, the newest episode of Family Guy encapsulates the Manilow conundrum.  He has so many fans who will not admit they are fans.  In the episode, Peter Griffin and his buddies are sitting in their usual place at the bar discussing how uncool it would be to go to his concert.  Suddenly they all admit they love him and launch into a hilarious a capella version of Ready to Take a Chance Again.  Then they all go to the concert and cry and so on.  Manilow himself plays himself and asks Quagmire to come up on stage with him and he changes the words to his first big hit to "Oh Quagmire, you came and you gave without taking..."  So give Manilow credit for taking his work seriously but not himself. 

Overall the concert is well done and well-produced and performed, so good for Barry to make such a big comeback and actually may have improved with time.  I am knocking off a star since the whole thing is only 75 minutes yet spread out over two discs for some reason.  What a waste. 

Video ****

Bright and clear, plenty of good viewpoints and lush color without any problems, which is always tough for a conert with its various light variances.  The stage presentation is also very good and seems to be simple and intimate but professional. 

Audio ***

You can hear everything well but the rear channels are barely used except for crowd noise, and DTS would have done it justice.  But having said that the mix is excellent in stereo and 5.1.

Features  **1/2

The second disc is apparently the encore of the concert from the first disc that are labeled as outtakes, but it is pretty good and includes his 80's hit Who's Been Sleeping in My Bed.  It has a pretty funny moment when he asks for some water and then can't hear himself and realizes that he is singing into his water bottle!  This concert is apparently a smaller scale production of the ful concert and even calls some of the numbers "outtakes."  I don't know why this DVD is apparently the warm-up for the "real" show instead of the whole thing, but it is pretty good.  He stops and starts some.

Summary:

Get this just for the new arrangement of Copacabana and its party atmosphere, turn it up loud, and thank him for taking care of himself and his voice to last this long.  The New York City Rhythm  is alive and well.

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