CD Review: The Advocate

October 21, 2003

Bette Midler • Sings the Rosemary Clooney Songbook (Columbia)

It began, as many a lark has, with Barry Manilow. It was his idea to revisit the canon of the late Rosemary Clooney and to recruit onetime cohort Bette Midler as the vocalist, leaving him free to act as the project’s chief producer. It was a logical fit all around: Besides sharing their own storied past, both performers were personally acquainted with Clooney, and Manilow contributed to Clooney’s Sings the Lyrics of Johnny Mercer album. Midler, for her part, was an apt choice of reinterpreter, bringing her well-honed versatility to songs that require alternating measures of tenderness and gusto.

Given the talent involved, The Rosemary Clooney Songbook could have been a true masterwork of schlock, but M&M refrain from pouring on the syrup too thickly. Midler shines most brightly doing straight takes on the ballads “You’ll Never Know” and, in particular, “Memories of You,” where she glides up to the high notes as if on a cloud. But she also fares well with some of the retooled songs, downshifting Clooney’s romp through “This Ole House” to a more subdued reading that better suits the wistful lyrics, and later adding more up-tempo zing to “In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening.” The two duets bring an extra sense of fun to the proceedings: “Sisters” features Linda Ronstadt’s voice twinning naturally to Midler’s, and “On a Slow Boat to China” is a chance for Manilow to trade vaudevillian banter with Ms. M between verses, minus the generational gap of singing styles that characterized Clooney’s original with Bing Crosby.

When the album does go astray, song selection usually is the culprit. “Mambo Italiano” and “Come On-a My House” are kitschy novelties that simply haven’t aged well, and when the haunted-house harpsichord solo drops on the latter, you have to wonder if Hocus Pocus 2 is in the offing. And even though the album is just shy of 31 minutes as it is, another remake of “White Christmas” is inevitably redundant, regardless of who’s singing it. Some too might be dissatisfied with the pastel arrangements—mostly Manilow’s—which don’t match up to the brassier aspects of Midler’s persona. But truthfully, that beats the alternative of overdoing it, especially on a tribute that only means to be—and is—sweet, lighthearted, and thankfully devoid of irony.

Thank you Terri from

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