The spark of madcap mischief that has lit up Bette Midlerâ€™s performances for more than four decades has hardly dimmed, as evidenced by â€œItâ€™s the Girls!,â€ her bubbly first studio album in eight years and one of her best. This tribute to girl groups, from the Boswell Sisters to TLC, was produced with Ms. Midlerâ€™s longtime collaborator, Marc Shaiman, the composer of â€œHairspray,â€ some of whose songs strongly echo classic â€™60s hits produced by Phil Spector. That music, along with Motown, is in Ms. Midler and Mr. Shaimanâ€™s bones, and their fit is as comfortable as ever.
Ms. Midlerâ€™s brash, mouthy vocal persona is still capable of sounding playfully transgressive, at least by â€™60s standards. She injects songs like the Marvelettesâ€™ â€œToo Many Fish in the Seaâ€ with a defiant air of girl power, which in those days was synonymous with winning and worshiping a sexy bad boy.
As vintage oldies mellow into latter-day standards, the reverence surrounding them tends to inhibit any remakes, but not here. The tempos are breezy on the albumâ€™s remakes of the Excitersâ€™ â€œTell Himâ€ and the Chiffonsâ€™ â€œOne Fine Day.â€ A lighthearted, cotton candy version of â€œBe My Babyâ€ is all the better for not pushing a martial grandiosity.
Most important, Ms. Midler brings her sense of humor. At the end of the Shangri-Lasâ€™ hit â€œGive Him a Great Big Kiss,â€ she announces that she must rush back to the I.C.U. to visit her sweetheart: â€œHeâ€™s 98, you know,â€ she explains. â€œIâ€™ve known him since this record came out.â€ STEPHEN HOLDEN