Standards have never been this much fun.
Standards have never been this much fun. "Bette Midler Sings the Rosemary Clooney Songbook," a tribute to the late singer's 1951-1958 heyday, reaches far beyond the typically maudlin collection of golden oldies, injecting humor and sarcasm into a crafty selection of chestnuts. The production role of Midler's original arranger, Barry Manilow (with Robbie Buchanan) is essential, with his persuasive versatility showcased on the lush "Tenderly," the bare-bones album opener and 1952 No. 1 "You'll Never Know" and the subtly folky "This Ole House." But the best moment comes in Midler and Manilow's duet "On a Slow Boat to China" (originally recorded with Clooney and Bing Crosby), which frolics like the good old days—Clooney's and Midler/Manilow's. "Songbook" is yet another milestone album in the career of one of pop culture's most enduring entertainers. Clooney must be swinging from on high.—CT