Review By Ron Fassler
Steve Tyrell, that laid back and amiable Texan, returned last night to the Café Carlyle for an eleven-day engagement, performing his favorites from the Great American Songbook. And all is right with the world. And even if he doesn’t possess a voice with the power of Tony Bennett, or the unique phrasing of Frank Sinatra, he does share with those artists how in tune he is with the songs he sings; caressing each and every one as if stroking an Angora kitten. Backed by a marvelous 5-piece band, the evening consisted of songs that went as far back as the 1920s, but in the hands of Tyrell and his companions, always felt vital and contemporary. And that is his gift to his audience.
Having moved to New York City from his native Houston at age nineteen, Tyrell found himself at the tail end of the golden age of the Brill Building, hanging and working with the likes of such budding songwriters as Carole King. He made his mark quickly as a producer, helping to provide hits for popular recording artists and movie soundtracks, by way of such legendary artists as Ray Charles, Linda Ronstadt and Bonnie Raitt. It was only with 1991’s Father of the Bride, starring Steve Martin, that Tyrell’s singing voice made it onto that film’s soundtrack with his recording of “The Way You Look Tonight.” Suddenly someone who had been behind-the-scenes for nearly thirty years was pushed front and center—and he liked it! Tyrell’s new-found popularity led to his being chosen in 2005, after the death of Bobby Short, to take over the Holiday Season of November and December at the Café Carlyle, which Short had not missed in 36 years. The result has been an unqualified success entertaining there over the past fourteen years.
For an hour and fifteen minutes, Tyrell smoothly took the Carlyle audience through songs by way of their history, as well as his personal history to them. “Always on My Mind” was accompanied by a story of his working with Elvis (Presley, not Costello). And before he sang “Stand by Me,” he told of being there when Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller first handed it off to Ben E. King (who didn’t want to sing it). His genial air and comfortability made the evening feel as if we were in good company in someone’s living room (a living room with good food and good drink, of course).
“On the Sunny Side of the Street,” “I’ve Got a Crush On You,” “Try a Little Tenderness” and “Just in Time” were some of the standards featured, and a salute near the finish to Tyrell’s mentor and friend Burt Bacharach, was a definite highlight. How can you go wrong when you’re singing “Look of Love,” “This Guy’s in Love with You” and “That’s What Friends Are For?” The fine musical direction for the evening was by Lyman Medeiros (who doubled on bass), alongside Andy Ezrin (piano), Bob Mann (guitar), Bryan Carter (drums) and Jon Allen (keyboards).
When the show was over, a woman seated next to me, who I said a brief hello to more than two hours earlier, grabbed me by the hand like a friend and said, “Wasn’t that great?” It would have been hard to argue, especially as she said it more as a statement of fact than a question.
Photos by David Andrako
Steve Tyrell will be performing at the Café Carlyle, 35 East 76th Street, New York, NY 10075, now through April 27th. For tickets, go to https://www.ticketweb.com/search?q=cafe+carlyle