Bette Midler: It's the Girls!

Midler interprets great female vocalists from the Shirelles to TLC

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"?