CD Review: St. Louis Post-Dispatch


St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Brian Q. Newcomb

Midler reprises Rosemary Clooney, and boy, can she swing (and sing)

On the big screen, Bette Midler has played thoroughly modern, often larger-than-life characters. However, it’s been clear since her 1972 debut, “The Divine Miss M,” that her best musical efforts find their roots in the popular music of a bygone era. When Midler “Sings the Rosemary Clooney Songbook,” she not only pays tribute to the late, great singer, she also recovers what has always been her mainstay.

In her liner notes, Midler, 58, calls Clooney “one of the great American voices of the last century, full of warmth, sincerity and truth. Her intonation was impeccable … she radiated intelligence and good humor, and boy, could she swing.” With some detours over the years, folks might say these same things about Midler.

Reunited with piano player and producer Barry Manilow, Bette emphasizes
Clooney’s early hits from the first half of the 1950s, including two from her appearance with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye in the film “White Christmas.” Although Manilow and Midler have sought to bring fresh arrangements, most of “Songbook” emphasizes the traditional pop-jazz big-band sound that was Clooney’s forte.

Midler is respectful and at times restrained as she moves through solid interpretations of winners such as “This Ole House,” “Tenderly” and “Memories of You.” She duets with Manilow, who fills the Bing Crosby role on “On a Slow Boat to China,” and with Linda Ronstadt on “Sisters.”

But mostly its Midler, downplaying her own diva divinity in favor of honoring Clooney’s memory, which is served best on the jazzy “In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening,” “Come On-a My House” and the Latin swing of “Mambo Italiano.” “Songbook” won’t give you your fill of either Clooney or Midler, but it’s a fine collection that demonstrates the power of treasuring the past.

Thank you Manilow Elf!

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