2 min

Dancing after dessert

In The Cool, Cool, Cool Of The Evening'

Credit: Xtra files

When you first listen to Bette Midler’s zesty new CD, don’t make the same mistake I made and put it on while working retail. Trust me. Needy customers will interrupt your bopping and enrage you. My advice is to take this album to your next holiday party, clear a space on the floor, and let her rip.

Bette Midler Sings The Rosemary Clooney Songbook is the brainchild of Barry Manilow who produced the CD and arranged most of the tracks. He knows what he’s doing. Both he and his old pal Bette have long been drawn to brassy big-band boogie-woogie, so they’re comfortable working with the material that propelled Clooney to the top of the charts throughout the 1940s and ’50s.

The notion of a Rosemary Clooney tribute album is exciting rather than morbid now that she’s been gone for more than a year.

In this 11-track collection, it’s the swingin’ numbers that fare best. Full of pizzazz is “In The Cool, Cool, Cool Of The Evening” in which Bette asks the musical question, “How ’bout your brother, jackass?” She harmonizes effortlessly with Linda Ronstadt on Irving Berlin’s “Sisters,” and her playful duet with Manilow on Frank Loesser’s “On A Slow Boat To China” radiates genuine warmth. A little disappointing is the listless jazz take on “Come On-A My House,” but then out bursts “Mambo Italiano” and the fun resumes.

My favourite track by far is track two, “This Ole House.” Manilow has re-interpreted Clooney’s jangling, novelty-song version of this Stuart Hamblen tune, and presents it as a classic country ditty, upbeat yet wistful. Accompanied by a small ensemble that includes banjo, mandolin and whistlers, Midler exudes the soulfulness that made her performance in the film The Rose so effective. When she growls “Ain’t got time to fix the shingles/ Ain’t got time to fix the floor,” you believe she’s fixed shingles and floors before.

Of course, Midler’s voice is nowhere near as rich as Clooney’s (not many voices are) and, as a result, the ballads “You’ll Never Know,” “Tenderly” and “Memories Of You” suffer a little. Fortunately, Manilow has orchestrated an up-tempo “Hey, There” for her to kvetch out. And he has positioned the tracks so that the entire CD flows beautifully. It runs about half an hour and ends with “White Christmas.” Who’s for dancing after dessert?

* Bette Midler plays the Air Canada Centre on Mon, Jan 12; call (416) 870-8000.


Bette Midler.

Columbia. $14.99.