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Music Reviews

Bette Midler
Bathhouse Betty
Warner Bros 9 47078-2 Pop/Vocals

Bette Midler

 

 

 

Bette Midler is a very talented woman who unfortunately doesn't make particularly good records. Despite having a firm grasp on the classic American songbook, good taste and a whopping sense of humor, her biggest hits have been pseudo-inspirational Disney-type ballads like Wind Beneath My Wings. In the name of diversity, her albums are musically all over the playing field, rarely scoring a goal. On those occasions when she does, you cheer, but you'd need to be a huge fan to be satisfied with her output of the last few years, especially in comparison to her first two albums or her live performances.

Her new album, Bathhouse Betty, certainly looks promising and as usual there are a few good moments but too often she's appealing to her Wind Beneath My Wings audience or she's in way over her head.

Right off the bat the opening number, Leonard Cohen's Song of Bernadette, suffers from a trite contemporary ballad arrangement. Cohen's lyrics keep things from getting overly sweet. Nothing can save the other "inspirational" ballads like That's How Love Moves and the blatant Wind Beneath My Wings remake, My One True Friend.

I'm Beautiful is perhaps the most troublesome track on the album. This was a minor hip-hop hit in 1993 by Uncanny Alliance, a young black girl's declaration of self-worth that was surprisingly uplifting. In Midler's hands, it becomes the whine of the Jewish American Princess. She's wise to switch from a hip-hop to disco beat, but it's hard to imagine this becoming a dance floor hit with Midler's mugging and squeaking. Bette "rocking out" either as Janet Jackson with Big Socks or as a blues singer on One Monkey Don't Stop No Show, is not a pretty thing.

On a positive note, there are a few nice tracks that should have been the foundation for a better album. Ukulele Lady is pleasant but adds nothing to the definitive Hilo Hattie recording or even the oddly sweet Ethel Merman version. Boxing and Laughing Matters are unusually intelligent modern compositions with thoughtful lyrics and neo-cabaret arrangements. I Sold My Heart to the Junkman is short, sweet and straightforward and would be ideal on an album of standards.

In fairness to Midler, what's a diva to do? She's probably not ready to be put out to pasture and make better records on a smaller independent label, but at the same time, she's too mature, intelligent and out of touch with current trends to make contemporary pop music. She's not alone in her dilemma. Quite loudly, Barbra Streisand is making much worse music. Celine Dion and Mariah Carey might actually have good voices if they'd stop mixing their treacle songs with their bad Aretha imitations and just sing. In fact, when she asks us (and surely she will), our advice to Midler will be, "Shut up and sing."

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Various Artists
The Look of Love:
The Burt Bacharach Collection
Rhino R2 75339

 

Burt Bacharach

 

 

 

 

Music can be incredibly potent in conjuring up memories. This new retrospective of Burt Bacharach presents songs and prepubescent memories that haven't entered our 30-something mind for years. At the age of 10, we fancied ourselves a major songwriter waiting to be discovered. Our most important work was Ode to Susan, written and performed on our clarinet in tribute to a lovely classmate. It was during this time that Burt Bacharach was at his peak and we distinctly remember thinking that Bacharach had written all the best songs already, and somehow if he hadn't put those particular notes together, eventually we would have. Damn you, Burt Bacharach! Being that Bacharach was so prolific, we put our song writing talents on the back burner and proceeded to write our memoirs, I Only Wanted Everything. We're still "shopping" for a publisher.

The Burt Bacharach renaissance is here in full swing, thanks to the boredom of the Lounge set looking to broaden their horizons and the recent collaboration with Elvis Costello. We've heard Bacharach compared to Gershwin and Mozart recently and this makes us chuckle. He is awfully good as a pop songwriter and his productions were more often than not infectious and classy in a late 1960s manner. It's nothing short of amazing to look over the titles of this collection and think that one man wrote all these melodies. In addition to all the Dionne Warwick songs we all know, we were surprised that Bacharach also wrote Wives and Lovers, (The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valence and Blue on Blue. What's even more surprising is that listening to the collection as a whole, the music has an incredible feeling of melancholy.

The bulk of the three-disc collection is a wonderful time capsule of 1960s and early 70s pop at its best. It's controlled, gorgeous and completely at odds with a new generation that would change popular music, for better and for much worse, forever.

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Otis Rush
Any Place I'm Going
House of Blues 5141613432 Blues

otis

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

What happens when a classic blues singer records with the slick production values of a mainstream pop record? If its a project like the soundtrack to the Blues Brothers, it's a mess. If it's a young buck like Robert Cray or Lucky Peterson, the results end up closer to rock than blues. When it's Otis Rush, it's surprisingly great.

Rush's latest album, Any Place I'm Going, hasn't left our CD player for days. Noted as a great guitar player ever since his 1956 Chess hit, I Can't Quit You Baby, he also possesses one of those thick, dreamy voices that could probably withstand substandard material. This album has an almost unnaturally clean sound but the arrangements are strong and never resort to the Las Vegasy-sound that has marred other blues men trying to cross over. There's never a forced groove on the upbeat numbers, but it's really on the slower tracks, where Rush gets to show off his voice, that Any Place I'm Going shines. Laughin' and Clownin', Walking the Back Streets and Crying and Part Time Love are all classic slow blues, introduced by the drums, followed by a guitar solo and then going into traditional blues form. With a master like Otis Rush, the result is infectious.

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Los Super Seven
Los Super Seven
RCA AO7863-67689-2 Latin / Pop

 

 

 

So often we hear hype about albums that usually end up pretty dismal. We remember when songstress Basia first burst on the scene as a solo act after her run with Matt Bianco. Reviewers citing press releases described her as a wonderful combination of jazz, pop and Brazilian music. Well, she may have listened to jazz, but she was in no way a jazz singer. Many of her tunes featured a lot of gentle percussion, so we suppose that makes her Brazilian.

There's been a lot of hype about Los Super Seven and we were prepared for the worst. What a nice treat when the hype machine works in our favor! The album is a laid-back session featuring the best and most famous of today's Tejano musicians. We were expecting something along the lines of  the late Selena or supergroup Mazz, but instead, we feel as if we were invited to a really fine Texas barbeque. The music is Tejano with cumbias, rancheras and even a touch of mariachi thrown in.

The feeling is very casual, from the guitar playing to the vocals (which might grate on listeners more accustomed to slick professionals), but it's never sloppy. The only problem we can foresee is trying to find more rootsy Tejano music of this caliber. Let's hope there's a follow-up.

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