Album review

Steve Tyrell – ‘Shades of Ray: The Songs of Ray Charles’

Steve Tyrell – Shades of Ray: The Songs of Ray Charles
(New Design Records/Arts Music. Album Review by Adam Sieff)

Steve Tyrell is a larger-than-life 76 year old who has practically done it all in the music business. A former R&B band singer from Houston Texas, who chose his professional name while driving through the town of Tyrell, he moved to New York at 19 and became the A&R/Promo man at Scepter Records where he hustled Burt Bacharach/Hal David songs and produced Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head for BJ Thomas, wrote It’s Only Love for Elvis and How Do You Talk To An Angel, the TV theme for The Heights.

By the nineties he was established in Los Angeles producing music for movies, and his well received guide vocals on the songs he was producing for The Father of the Bride soundtrack (including The Way You Look Tonight) were subsequently used in the film and persuaded him to start singing professionally again. He had huge chart success with 1999’s A New Standard which was cleverly marketed through gift and clothes shops and other non traditional outlets, produced the Rod Stewart Songbook albums (all recorded in ‘girls keys’ for Stewart’s high vocal pitch), is a DJ for KJAZZ in Long Beach and continues to make records and tour.

Steve Tyrell album cover

He’s now releasing a record celebrating Ray Charles’ 90th birthday (September 23rd), and what makes it work so well are the astute arrangements by album co-producer Bob Mann. He gives this well-known repertoire a shot in the arm, enabling Tyrell to really deliver these songs he obviously knows inside out, coming over like Dr John meets Delbert McClinton at the Café Carlyle. As Tyrell says, “Ray’s versions of these songs are so timeless that there’s no point in trying to copy him. What I tried to do is take the influence he’s had on me over the years and let that inspire performances straight from my heart.”

It’s all killer no filler: Let The Good Times Roll, Hallelujah I Love Her So, What’d I Say, I Can’t Stop Loving You and eleven more performed by a large group of A listers including saxophonists Andy Snitzer, Blue Lou Marini, Brandon Fields and Ricky Woodard, pianists Joe Sample, Chuck Leavell, Randy Kerber, Jim Cox and Andy Ezrin and guitarists Bob Mann and Grant Geissman.

The string arrangements for Am I Blue and Ruby were written by Alan Broadbent (who also played piano) and the charts were recorded in Budapest. In fact, the album credits a number of different studio and home recording situations, and some of these tracks must have been on the back burner for some time as they feature long departed musicians such as trumpeter Lew Soloff who plays a wonderful solo on Georgia on my Mind and drummer John Guerin. Engineer and another co-producer John Allen has done well to mix this album so that everything fits together well.

A surprise addition is the bonus track Curiosity, a duet with Ray Charles written by Tyrell especially for Charles as the theme song to the 1989 TV series Snoops. Says Tyrell, “I played Ray the track in the studio and he just said, ‘Beautiful man, beautiful,’ which was the greatest thing I’d ever heard, especially since this was the first time he’d ever agreed to sing a title song for a TV series, and I wrote it. We had to re-write some of the lyrics to match changes that had been made to the show’s title sequence, so Ray had me sing him each re-written line one at a time so he could sing them back to me. I had a smile on my face for months after that. Can you imagine how thrilling it was to sing my words to Ray Charles and have him sing them back to me?”

There are two more duets on the album, each with a superb vocalist, a funky Hit the Road Jack with Sharlotte Gibson and a version of Big Bad Love with Nita Whitaker, a song Tyrell wrote for Ray Charles and Diana Ross.

There’s a dedication to participating organist Mike Finnegan, ‘a soulful friend’, in the sleeve notes. Tyrell is big on things soulful, he may not be jazz enough for some, but he’s a big hearted entertainer with a great voice who wants you to enjoy the music above all else.

LINK: Steve Tyrell’s website

Categories: Album review

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