Anyone wondering how a Texas-via-Hollywood cabaret act registers with a strictly Upper East Side crowd gets an answer with Steve Tyrell. The erstwhile a&r man (e.g., the second two Rod Stewart collections of standards) rolls onto Bobby Short’s old Café Carlyle territory through December 31 with the intrepid commitment with which homesteaders Conestoga’d into the West. With personnel like Blood, Sweat & Tears alumnus Lew Soloff, he lays a solid claim. But to make certain he’s welcome, he offers holdouts a spiel about the Great American Songbook. Then for a generous hour-plus he pages through a stack of lyrics on a nearby music stand. It doesn’t hurt that while he entertains, he looks like one of the Bush bad boys wielding a mic instead of a beer bottle.
Tyrell isn’t interested in plumbing the emotional depths of anything he sings. He leaves that to blue-state warblers. His interest is having a good time, which draws the audience in. He’s to fun what Short was to joy—fun is the factor that makes inevitably right his appearance in a room where whimsical Vertes murals still adorn the wall. Among the tunes crush-gravel-voiced Tyrell gives the once-over to—many included on his new Songs of Sinatra CD—are “I’ve Got a Crush on You,” “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” and Billie Holiday’s “It’s the Mood I’m In.” (Though going heavy on Cole Porter, he doesn’t toy with “It Was Just One of Those Things,” perhaps because he knows Short owned it.)
But even when Tyrell skims the surface of his choice choices, he respects the lyrics and festoons them at the ends of phrases with hopeful smiles. “Am I OK?” he asks, all the while seeming to add, “I know I am.” Two reasons for his being so relaxed and assured are his oil-and-vinegar arrangements and the seven musicians—especially Soloff—who saunter through them with brilliance. And maybe East Coast whimsy is up his alley, after all. Introducing “Just in Time,” he says he asked the song if it’d enjoy being a bossa nova. He reports it replied, “Hey, yeah, man!”