Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Music Review: Bette Midler-- Jackpot! The Best Bette


The title of Bette Midler's career retrospective album, which spans four decades and nine studio albums (including one previously unreleased track) in the Divine Miss M's career, seems to offer two meanings. A showbiz pro from way back — the first is obviously an on the surface tie-in to Midler’s five nights a week Caesar's Palace hit Las Vegas show entitled “The Showgirl Must Go On.” Secondly — and all cheesiness aside — it also strikes a chord for fans who have admired her work and the gutsy diva's effortless ability to make us laugh, cry, or stare in awe since upon just the first listen. They’ll feel as though they've hit the jackpot themselves with Rhino’s wonderfully produced new disc.

A must own for anyone seeking the divinity that only Miss M can offer, admittedly the album could've as easily been named The Best of Bette. However, in keeping with the lotto theme it's The Best Bette because of its audacious diversity in showcasing Midler’s tremendous range and her willingness to take a gamble on every genre from the folksy “This Ole House,” to a rollicking cover of The Rolling Stone's “Beast of Burden.” The latter offers a fascinating female-centric take on Mick Jagger's hyper-masculine and overtly sexual lyrics.

Above all, it constantly surprises listeners from one piece to the next. Whether it's with the tear-jerker ballad “The Wind Beneath My Wings,” which despite being featured in Beaches (view the music video) and earning a Grammy, became an entirely different American anthem in my youth following the devastation of NASA's Challenger mission, or the up-tempo, retro single version of the “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” it's amazing when you realize you're listening to the same artist throughout the nineteen track album.

Certainly, one could chalk it up to the fact that some of the tunes — despite sounding better than ever with new technology — are quite dated and an individual's voice changes over the years. Yet, I'm more prone to side with her recent album producer Jay Landers who credits her ability as a “singer-actress” to craft “emotional song-paintings,” as he wrote in Jackpot's liner notes, likening her ability to “make magic... [and] to try and locate the center of the song,” with “capturing moonbeams in a jar.” No, as he continued, it's because of her talent as a showman on a number of levels, most notably in the realm of acting that she “instinctively knew how to inhabit a song... placing meaning in old lyrics, rendering them new again... the kind of rare interpreter who can make the listener see as well as hear.”

Of course, the dramatic advantage seemed to be Midler's since birth. Named after one of the most legendary screen goddesses, Ms. Bette Davis, although given a single syllable pronunciation by her parents. Midler grew up in Hawaii until she found her big break playing a seasick extra in the film “Hawaii.” This tiny role gained her enough of an income to venture to New York in the 1960s in the hopes of becoming a star. After appearing on Broadway, Midler continued to perform for the sheer love of entertaining an audience — working alongside her pianist Barry Manilow (who helped arrange numerous tracks on Jackpot!) in a New York City gay bathhouse.

After Manilow produced her first album, The Divine Miss M, she continued both singing and acting, earning her first of two Academy Award nominations for playing a troubled singer modeled after Janis Joplin in The Rose. Later, the 1980s found her marrying her long time husband and giving birth to her daughter before moving into comedy with roles in several overly broad, screwball ventures such as Ruthless People and Down and Out in Beverly Hills which helped solidify her bawdy reputation. Yet, like The Rose, Midler is perhaps best known for tugging at the heartstrings in the chick flick classic Beaches, which served up a number of phenomenal songs in her platinum album Some People's Lives.

The proud mother, devoted wife, and philanthropist is also the recipient of four Grammy Awards, four Golden Globes, three Emmy Awards, two Oscar nominations, and one Tony Award and despite conquering every medium from stage to the screen (both small and big), we never know just what she'll tackle next. In 2008, she amazed us all again by kicking off her Vegas show, starring in Helen Hunt’s impressive directorial debut Then She Found Me, and of course, releasing this retrospective that fans have been long awaiting.

While Jackpot includes some of her most requested and best-loved ballads such as “The Rose,” and “From a Distance,” refreshingly, it also has a few numbers from her recent Rosemary Clooney Songbook album, quite a few from Beaches, as well as the previously unreleased “Something Your Heart Has Been Telling Me,” and her hip holiday classic “Cool Yule.” To experience a mini-listening party, you can check one out here via Real, Windows Media I and II, and Quicktime and while Jackpot! comes highly recommended for any Bette fan, there's no better spokesperson than the Divine Miss M herself as she recently posted a YouTube video, spoofing Madonna's recent vacuuming one that you can explore here.

Jackpot! Track Listing

1. "In The Mood"

2. "This Ole House"

3. "Beast Of Burden"

4. "Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)"

5. "The Rose"

6. "When A Man Loves A Woman"

7. "I've Still Got My Health"

8. "Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most"

9. "Hello In There"

10. "The Glory Of Love"

11. "Tenderly"

12. "Wind Beneath My Wings"

13. "Do You Want To Dance?"

14. "Baby Mine"

15. "From A Distance"

16. "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" (Single Version)

17. "Friends"

18. "Something Your Heart Has Been Telling Me" *

19. "Cool Yule"

*Previously unreleased

The Diverse Miss M.