Bette Midler, “Bette of Roses” (Atlantic; running time: 50:42, 11
It’s not as if Bette Midler has been sitting around doing nothing
the past five years. There were films (“For the Boys” and “Hocus
Pocus”), television work (“Gypsy”), soundtracks, and a greatest-hits
collection. There also was the Divine Miss M’s long-awaited return to
the concert stage that took Midler across the country for the sold-out,
record-breaking “Experience the Divine” tour.
But it’s been a while — five years to be exact — since Midler
released a studio collection. “Bette of Roses” is the Divine Miss M’s
first since 1990’s “Some People’s Lives” — and it’s one of the summer’s
more pleasant surprises.
With the exception of her live albums (notably “Divine Madness” and
“Live at Last”), Midler’s past albums have often been … well … less
While “Bette of Roses” is not without fault (more about that
later), it has more than enough pluses to make it a worthwhile,
For starters, Midler bypasses overdone Forties standards in favor
of a contemporary mix that includes ballads, folk-inspired tunes, and
even a western-influenced song (“I Know This Town”). No matter what the
style, though, Midler immediately claims each tune as her own.
The voice training Midler undertook for her role as Mama Rose in
“Gypsy” has paid enormous dividends as evidenced by her impeccable,
involving vocal work on “Bette of Roses.” The songs she has selected —
including the dramatic, devotional Maria McKee-written tune “To Deserve
You” — demand a voice with a wide range. But that’s no problem for
Midler, who traverses each with ease and and aplomb.
One of the vocal highlights of the album is “To Comfort You.”
Adopting a sultry lower register, Midler not only beautifully conveys
the sensuous feel of the ballad, but heightens that feeling, as well.
Ballads pack the collection, and one wishes that Midler had chosen
a few more up-tempo tunes to better balance the album. But this is a
minor quibble, when someone sings as divinely as Miss M does here.