The reason to make an album of girl-group covers, as Bette Midler has here, is also the biggest challenge: Everyone loves “Be My Baby,” so you’d better nail it. The good news is that Midler has a voice that’s rich enough to reanimate any pop standard ”“ see her showstopping version of the Shirelles’ “Baby It’s You,” which she reinvents as a gospel-flavored ballad. She cannily includes some new choices, too, like a low, silky take on TLC’s “Waterfalls” ”“ a Nineties hit that she makes utterly her own ”“ alongside the work of the Sixties queens. “He’s Sure the Boy I Love” is a duet with one of those royals, Darlene Love, and the album’s spirit of femme camaraderie comes through in their powerhouse harmonies and jokey just-us-girls delivery. Some of Midler’s farther reaches, like a country & western version of the Supremes‘ “You Can’t Hurry Love,” can make you wish she applied her prodigious showgirl talents to the originals a bit more straightforwardly. (Some songs will never belong at the Opry.) But at this point in her four-decade career, you have to respect Midler’s dedication to experimenting ”“ and most of her gambles pay off, especially when she gives an extra jolt to forgotten classics like the Shangri-Las‘ “Give Him a Great Big Kiss.” And how can anyone stay mad at a tribute to femininity filled with ad-libs like “Come on, girls, let’s go grab the Early Bird”?
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