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Bette Midler: Sings the Peggy Lee Songbook

Following in the stylistic and thematic wake of her 2003 musical obit to Rosemary Clooney, the sagely retro Midler salutes another deceased pop-jazz legend. Again, Midler sticks to what she knows and does best, putting most of the emphasis on the pop side of the Lee canon. Again, she’s wisely called on old pal Barry Manilow, singularly skilled at toning down the glare that can so easily creep into the brassy Miss M’s performances, to produce the album and shape the majority of the arrangements.

It comes, of course, as no surprise that Midler handles such boisterous Lee hits as “Big Spender,” “Alright, Okay, You Win,” “I’m a Woman,” the sassy “He’s a Tramp” and the peppy “I Love Being Here with You” (reshaped as a Manilow duet) with breezy confidence. Less expected is how effectively Midler captures Lee’s doelike fragility on such dreamy selections as “Happiness Is Just a Thing Called Joe,” “The Folks Who Live on the Hill” and “Mr. Wonderful.” Indeed, Midler only stumbles once, attempting the near-impossible task of replicating the haunted introspection of Lee’s “Is That All There Is?”

Disappointingly, the CD is limited to a scant 10 tracks. But for a few shekels extra you can get an enhanced, two-sided DualDisc that serves up all 10 tunes in enhanced PCM stereo, provides an alternate version of “Is That All There Is?” and weaves archival TV and film footage of Lee with rare home movies and interviews with Midler and with Lee’s daughter and granddaughter.

Originally Published