By Greg Morago
The Hartford Courant
October 28, 2003
“Bette Midler Sings the Rosemary Clooney Songbook” (Columbia Records)
Rosemary Clooney had to be talked into recording “Come On-a My House” in 1951. It turned out pretty well. More than 50 years later, Bette Midler had to be talked into recording the same song on a tribute album to Clooney. It, too, turned out to be pretty good.
Darn good, in fact. “Bette Midler Sings the Rosemary Clooney Songbook,” a project that friend Barry Manilow had to persuade Midler to cram into her busy schedule, is a labor of love that bursts with appreciation for the talents of one of the classic singers of the 20th century. Clooney died last year, leaving the American standards with one less (and there are precious few) interpreter. And what an interpreter. Clooney touched songs such as “You’ll Never Know,” “Hey There,” “Tenderly” and “White Christmas” and made them as much a part of the American experience as baseball and apple pie.
Those songs are among the Clooney hits that Midler deftly handles on the songbook, a joyous and touching (sometimes heartbreakingly beautiful) recording that reunites the saucy chanteuse with her original piano accompanist and musical director (Manilow produced Midler’s first two breakthrough albums). She finds truer meaning in the novelty song “This Ole House,” giving it an almost contemporary country reading. She shows she has a great ear for the period with “On a Slow Boat to China” and “In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening.” Gorgeous new arrangements for “Hey There” and “Tenderly” make Clooney classics sound fresh and lushly cinematic.
Whether Midler finds gold with her “Songbook” remains to be seen. But listening to her sing “White Christmas” not only brings back Clooney; it brings a tear to the eye, and when was the last time an album did that?