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Music Review: Steve Tyrell – I’ll Take Romance

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Though the so-called Great American Songbook is an amazingly diverse and deep collection, one might think Steve Tyrell has pretty well crooned his way through from cover to cover over the course of some eight previous recordings. There are still gems to be found, though, and with I’ll Take Romance, Tyrell delivers another classy collection of timeless standards interspersed with a few newer compositions.

It’s an apt choice of titles, to be sure; Tyrell is a romantic’s romantic, his just-slightly-craggy voice possessed of a natural and easy-going warmth. He may not be the most technically precise singer around, but there’s a just-between-us quality that renders each tune an intimate and personal performance, as though Tyrell is singing, not to a crowd but to each and every individual listener. Add impeccable production and sympathetic support from an utterly immaculate orchestra, and the results are the perfect prelude to passion.

The material is primarily familiar fare, from a cover of “At Last” that kicks things off, to a lush “The Way You Look Tonight” that closes out the collection. In between there’s the title track (featuring guest vocalist Judith Hill) and “I Love You For Sentimental Reasons,” while Tyrell looks to prolific contemporary composers Barry Mann and Cynthia Well for “You Turn Me Around” and “Don’t Know Much,” as well as David Foster (“A Love That Will Last”). The newer songs are arguably not quite up to the standards of the ‘standards’ – the melodies don’t quite capture that timeless quality – but they fit seamlessly into the playlist, and there’s a pleasing consistency throughout.

Tyrell comes across as the penultimate “wedding singer” – there’s a story there, and he definitely deserves the title – and here he sings the ultimate “wedding song,” the iconic “At Last.” True, no one will ever touch the Etta James version – one of the most emotionally raw performances of all time. To his credit, Tyrell doesn’t even try to match the drama, instead opting for an easy going version that arguably renders the song in a more romantic fashion – there’s no hurt, no pain behind the words in his version, and as a result the song’s promise seems a little more certain.

Arrangements by Bob Mann are superb and sumptuous without being syrupy, a shimmery curtain of strings supporting most tracks, with just enough jazzy propulsion on jauntier fare (“Takin’ A Chance On Love”), though proceedings remain firmly romantic rather than frantic. When things do swing, it’s gently. There’s creamy-smooth sax and bits of bright, cheery harmonica, and while there’s nothing edgy or adventurous about the project – it’s an object lesson in restrained good taste – it doesn’t get much better than this.

Tyrell‘s a late bloomer – his first recording came out when he was 54 – but his voice has aged magnificently, and he may well be the best pure romantic singer on the planet. An absolutely enchanting collection, I’ll Take Romance is nothing short of superb.

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