Nick Clooney Reviews Bette and Barry: Awesome!



Cincinnati Post – Oct. 1, 2003
Midler’s CD tribute to Rosie is a winner

Many of you reading these words are friends and fans of my late sister
Rosemary. I have good news for you. The fiery singer and actress Bette
Midler was also a friend and fan of Rosemary’s. She, unlike the rest of
us, was in a position to do something about that respect and affection.

As it happens, her one-time pianist and longtime collaborator Barry
Manilow was Rosemary’s fan and friend, too.

They have produced what I stubbornly continue to call an album which is a
salute to Rosemary and her music. It is called “Bette Midler Sings the
Rosemary Clooney Songbook.” It is on Columbia Records, it is available as
of today, and it is terrific. Run, don’t walk, to get it.

Bette and Barry picked a wide range of Rosemary’s songs. Obviously, they
picked some that were their personal favorites, but they did not neglect
Rosemary’s biggest hits.

Bette’s saucy treatment of “Hey There” would have had Rosemary’s full
approval. And the way she approached “This Ole House” would have made the
writer of the song, Stuart Hamblen, very happy. As I have pointed out in
this corner before, Mr. Hamblen never thought Rosemary gave it quite the
country touch he envisioned. He did, however, cash all the royalty
checks. Bette gives the folk tune its full country due.

Throughout this fine album, Bette did Rosemary and the rest of us the
great favor of not trying to copy her. Frankly, no one can do that,

Instead, Bette is Bette, which is quite a remarkable thing to be. The
arrangements are uniformly excellent. They evoke the originals without
ever mimicking them.

Something surprised me. When I saw the list of songs on the label, I
assumed Bette would be most comfortable with the tempo and novelty hits.
What blindsided me was her excellent — dare I say sweet? — treatment of
Rosemary’s trademark “Tenderly.”

How to handle the duet “Slow Boat to China” with Bing Crosby? Just call
on the talents of producer Barry Manilow.

How to handle the duet “Sisters” with our sister Betty Clooney? Just call
on the talents of Linda Ronstadt, the most recent star of the Rosemary
Clooney Music Festival in Maysville.

Incidentally, personal thanks to my colleague at The Post, Wayne Perry,
who got his hands on an advance copy of the album — er, CD — and sent
it to me. I have nearly worn it out.

If one may be allowed a professional observation, Miss Midler seems to be
in excellent voice for this session, as good as I have heard in years.

Bette and Barry have chosen a couple of selections from an early album of
Academy Award-winning songs, including the opener, “You’ll Never Know.”

Miss Midler, always courageous, does not even shrink from pop music’s
third rail, “White Christmas.”

All in all, it is a wonderfully satisfying exposition of the gifts of
Bette Midler, Barry Manilow, Linda Ronstadt and many top-notch musicians,
all tipping the hat to the talent and life of Rosemary Clooney.

Perhaps only one mild disappointment. As some of you know, Mr. Manilow
was a friend of the widow of the premier lyricist of his day, Johnny
Mercer. Ginger Mercer drew Barry’s attention to one of the poems Johnny
left behind, a powerful evocation of life’s twilight years. Barry put
music to it worthy of the giants of the classical pop era and the result
was a poignant masterpiece, “When October Goes.”

Barry took the song to Rosemary and I believe it one of the three best
recordings of her later period. It would have been a great salute to that
remarkable extension of her career into her mature years. But that is a
wish, not a criticism.

Go out and buy it. That’s what I’m going to do, to send to friends. Then
sit down and listen with someone you love. That’s what I am doing right

Nick Clooney writes for The Post every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Publication Date: 10-01-2003

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