Miranda Music

For his recent act recorded live at the Manhattan nightclub The Metropolitan Room, Marcus Simeone chose songs around the theme of "change." Some reflect on and acknowledge how time and experience changes us. And people change people, as referenced in the song from The King and I included here, a very hip and contemporary "Getting to Know You." Most of the material is far more serious, pensive and cathartic—confronting the pain and daunting challenges in life in general and love relationships in particular. For a world view and reality check of perspective realignment, there's "Be Aware." I'm very pleased to see a new recording of this powerful and haunting song, written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David for Barbra Streisand, who performed it on television with the composer. She did not release a recording, though the team's main muse Dionne Warwick did. It's a call to action and a reminder that we can become spoiled and myopic, becoming "forgetful" that others have more serious problems. Although act sticks closely to its theme, there's quite a variety of genres R&B, pop, soul, musical theatre, and singer and musicians don't ever seem to be slumming or wearing one more lovingly than another.

I've never been a big fan of the schools of major doses of melisma, melodrama and mannerisms, when the style takes over the substance. That has been a major problem for me over the years with Marcus, who I always knew had a powerful vocal instrument with some gorgeous tones, because he lost me with the way they all this was employed. There were embellishments and very stylized choices that I think can overwhelm songs and he can come off as overwrought in person, when there are accompanying distracting, intense facial expressions, gestures, gasps and such. He's always had his followers and resisters, as performers with strong styles and old choices will. So be it. But maybe, to quote one of the songs here, "A Change Is Gonna Come." This is a powerful listening experience with far, far less of what I'd described above which seemed self-indulgent. Leaner with his styling and cutting to the quick, he's showing genuine gutsy emotion—rather than showboating. There's communication and a delivery of the songs' intents, not just intense performing. He hasn't abandoned some of his favored ways, but seems to have pulled back the attack—as a result, the songs shine. And so does his voice, because we can appreciate the vocal qualities more when it's a laser beam rather than a flashing-lights show.

"Since You Stayed Here" from the Off-Broadway musical Brownstone moves in with Barry Manilow's "I Haven't Changed the Room." These musical roommates get along rather well, crooned attractively with thoughtfulness and some swallowed pain. But it's not just about interior decoration—it's about the people changing themselves on the inside. When someone moves out, we need to move on—that appears to be the message. The album's title song tackles larger issues with grace, embracing the circle of life and the uncertainty of the future and is performed with dignity.

The very accomplished, in-demand Barry Levitt is pianist/ musical director/ arranger and co-producer (with the singer and Kitty Skrobela for Miranda Music). He's in top form here, joined by Jack Cavari on guitar and Morrie Louden on bass, who sound great, and the musicians get some spotlight, especially dazzling on the (rhythm and) blues. Tracy Stark takes the piano seat for the final cool-down track, another Bacharach/ David song, "I Just Have to Breathe," and brings just the right understated, hold-your-breath touch. There's barely any patter on the recording, but the songs say a whole lot and pack a punch.

Rob Lester