Midler fans beware - the title track aside, this not the middle-of-the-road, adult-contemporary pop that the woman has made her trademark over most of her career. It's Memphis-tinged rock-and-blues sung in the persona of the fictional film character. Midler's voice isn't perfectly suited to the material - no one will ever mistake her for Janis Joplin - but she certainly gives it a game go and her performances are ultimately credible and winning. Classic R&B numbers like "When A Man Loves A Woman" and "Stay With Me" not only sidestep the potential for sacrilege and disaster; they manage to be fresh, potent declarations of pain. "Love Me With A Feeling" has a nice bluesy shuffle; other numbers are more straight-forward rock, filtered through Muscle Shoals.
The album's succeeds in no small part due to the able musicians backing Midler. They are more than some ad-hoc Big Brother and the Holding Company; they have the bite and energy of a real band. I'd have liked to see them showcased even more on the record. (They do get a brief instrumental number to themselves.)
And then there's the Big Hit Ballad, which seems to come from another musical universe entirely. It doesn't fit the album at all; it's as if tracks 1-11 are song by The Rose (the character from the movie) and track 12 is sung by Bette Midler (the AC superstar). But at least the version included here is the piano-only track, which I much prefer to the orchestra-backed single version.
Not Janis, but not a knock-off either, this is music to be enjoyed in its own right. You can argue that this isn't "real" rock/blues - it's an actor giving a performance. Maybe so, but at least it's a *good* performance, of good songs.