CD REVIEW: Cincinatti Post

Midler delivers the songs of ‘girl singer’ pal Clooney
By Rick Bird
Post staff reporter

Bette Midler, “Bette Midler Sings the Rosemary Clooney Songbook”

The Divine Miss M is out with the first tribute album to Rosemary Clooney since Clooney’s death last year, and while the effort is not totally divine it does have plenty of pleasing moments.

The effort was arranged and produced by Barry Manilow, who produced Midler’s earliest albums and also performed with Clooney on some projects in the ’90s.

Manilow sings with Midler on a great campy version of “Slow Boat to China,” reprising the Clooney-Bing Crosby performance from 1958.

But Manilow’s arrangments are a little too slick and over-the-top at times, frequently coming off achingly sweet and lush.

To Midler’s credit, she plays it fairly straight as a pop singer, staying true to Clooney’s intimate delivery as Midler mostly resists the effort to resort to her cabaret camp roots. She does a tremendous job on “Hey There,” “Tenderly” and “White Christmas.”

She rightfully gets back into hamming it up on “Mambo Italiano.”

The highlight of the album is Midler’s thoroughly delightful duet with Linda Ronstadt on “Sisters,” which Rosemary originally sang with her sister Betty for the 1954 movie “White Christmas.”

The nagging problem for some longtime Clooney fans may be the selection of material, which stops short of being the “Rosemary Clooney Songbook.”

The emphasis is on Clooney’s ’50s hits. So it doesn’t include the exquisite arrangements she did later with Nelson Riddle, nor does it draw from Clooney’s seminal Concord jazz recordings in the ’70s.

Indeed, Clooney herself was known to grow to detest some of those ’50s hits, which she felt were fluff.

She hardly ever performed “Come On-a My House” or “Mambo Italiano” in the last half of her career.

And Midler’s inclusion of the twangy “This Ole House” is similarly puzzling.

Despite the quibbles, Midler delivers a heartfelt Clooney tribute with her voice as spirited and charismatic as ever and shows she is indeed a card-carrying member of Rosemary’s “girl singer” club.

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