Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Bette Midler: It's the Girls! [Warner Bros., 2014]
When Midler covered the Dixie Cups and the Shangri-Las in 1972, she was reclaiming "rock"'s female principle. So on this tribute and Christmas gift, the artist who did so much to make "girl group" a brand and a byword broadens its reach. In addition to mining the great American songbook of Goffin-King, Mann-Weill, and Holland-Dozier-Holland, she invites the foundational Boswell Sisters, the Cuban-born DeCastro Sisters, cover queens the Chordettes, and the Andrews Sisters singing in Yiddish to the party. She turns TLC's "Waterfalls" into a nightclub ballad and the Shangri-Las' "Give Him a Great Big Kiss" into a senior-care burlesque. Her wittingly lowbrow notion of class uncorrupted by her success, she sings every lyric like it's Cole Porter, or at least Irving Berlin, because in historical context it is. Midler recognizes no disconnect between good-humored sincerity and the idea that camp is a tender feeling. And she knows "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" is every bit as eloquent as "They Can't Take That Away From Me." A-