When Rosemary Clooney passed away last year I did not think that she received the consideration due her musical career. Maybe it was because her initial reputation was made on the strength of recordings that were clearly novelty songs. But in terms of female jazz singers from that period, and I would maintain that ultimately Clooney was a jazz vocalist, she was a superb lyrical interpreter, whose phrasing displayed an intelligence that few of her contemporaries could match. One result of this tribute album from Bette Midler and producer Barry Manilow is that a lot of people are going to be inspired to go back and listen to Rosemary Clooney's original recordings; that is certainly the effect it had on me.
"Bette Midler Sings the Rosemary Clooney Songbook" is Midler's tribute to the late singer and those expecting to hear the Divine Miss M here might face some disappointment. I have seen Midler in concert and for my money there is no performer on the face of the earth that puts on a show like she does. However, few songs in the Clooney "songbook" play to Midler's best known strengths ("Mambo Italiano" would be the exception that proves the rule in this case). That is why the key track on this album is "Come On-A My House," which represents the best example of what Middler is trying to do on this album, with "Hey There" and "In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening" in a similar vein. Picking Linda Ronstadt for the duet of "Sisters" is an interesting choice, but that song is always going to be fun. The net result is a pleasant mix of tunes and a fitting tribute to Clooney. Few of Midler's fans will consider this her best album, but it a much stronger effort than we have seen recently and quite enjoyable.