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Cabaret Review

Tyrell Wraps Pop Standards in an Almost Perfect Package

May 19, 2000|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Steve Tyrell has had a long and accomplished history as a top-level record and soundtrack producer. His list of achievements ranges from Linda Ronstadt's "Somewhere Out There" and the hit Bacharach-David film song "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head" to the No. 1 single from Fox TV's "The Heights."

More recently--notably since he performed as a singer in the films "Father of the Bride" (1 and 2)--Tyrell has been building a career as a solo performer, climaxing with the release of his critically praised CD "A New Standard." Wednesday night at the Hollywood Roosevelt Cinegrill, before a packed crowd of avid supporters, Tyrell opened a four-performance run, backed by a sterling six-piece ensemble.

And what became clear, almost immediately, was the fact that it is Tyrell's skill and imaginativeness as a producer that has been the primary force behind the successes in his new endeavor. The choice to do a program of standards--"The Very Thought of You," "Sunny Side of the Street," "I'm in the Mood for Love," "Don't Get Around Much Any More," to name only a few--was timely. Like Joni Mitchell's similar decision with her "Both Sides Now" album and tour, the repertoire selection makes sense on two levels: as appropriate material for a mature artist, and as a return to music with sophisticated lyrics, melodies and harmonies at a time when pop music is generally oriented in a vastly different direction.

Tyrell also chose his accompaniment wisely, electing to have arrangements (by Bob Mann) filled with colorful harmonies, surging jazz-based rhythms and first-rate soloists (especially trumpeter-fluegelhornist Warren Leuning and guitarist John Albano).

The net result was a setting in which the material and the musical framing provided the most felicitous setting for his somewhat idiosyncratic style. Tyrell's gravelly voice, reminiscent of a blend of Tom Waits, Leon Russell and Randy Newman, offered a great deal of character, but not much in the way of tonal coloration. Nor did his vocal interpretations offer much beyond personable enthusiasm.

But as the central element in a complete, carefully produced package, his renderings worked beautifully, a compelling interaction between soloist and accompaniment. Enhanced further by Tyrell's innate respect for, and understanding of, the storytelling elements at the heart of the songs, the evening was a pleasant encounter with a program of well-crafted, timeless American music.

*

* Steve Tyrell at the Cinegrill in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, 7000 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. Tonight at 8 and 10, and Saturday at 8 p.m. $15 cover and two drink minimum. (323) 466-7000.

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