One Isn't Like the Other, and That May be the Point


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November 13, 2013

One Isn't Like the Other, and That May be the Point
Tanya Holt and Marcus Simeone at the Metropolitan Room

Congenial vocal chemistry is where you find it, and sometimes unlikely couples like Tanya Holt, a sultry pop-soul singer, and Marcus Simeone, a hyper-emotional tenor, who performed together at the Metropolitan Room on Saturday evening, have it. The title of their show, "Quiet Storm," refers to the simmering romantic radio format first popularized in the mid-1970s. Adapted for cabaret, it embraces everything from Motown to "West Side Story" to Anita Baker.

Read more: One Isn't Like the Other, and That May be the Point


Tanya Holt & Marcus Simeone - Quiet Storm


holt simeoneCabaret Scenes logo

April 13, 2013

Tanya Holt and Marcus Simeone are so symbiotic onstage in Quiet Storm, it’s as if they’ve been working together for a decade. Both artists approach material from the inside out, expressing emotion with sincerity and phrasing rather than gesture or volume, communicating even the deepest of these without abrasive vocal stress. Both have polished presence. The two voices weigh in and play off one another with finesse. During a duet, Holt sometimes reacts to what Simeone is singing as if sharing an intimate opinion with the audience. Simeone has a habit of affectionately touching his partner or taking her hand. She’s still, he moves as if music’s coursing through him; she looks into our eyes, he channels his own experience. Holt deftly handles minimal patter. They face one another with warmth, neither angling for the spotlight.

The duo’s latest show at the Metropolitan Room is an appreciative nod to R&B radio station WBLS. “I’m quiet and he’s the storm,” Holt comments, smiling. It might also be construed as reference to the calm at the center of a storm represented by the tenor of the evening. The poetry of Jimmy Webb’s “Beyond Myself”: “Among my demeanors and dark dreams/I stood with hate and bitterness/My pride is like a furnace/Low and light” is rendered grave and feathery, while a tandem “It’s All Right with Me” (an odd choice for its necessary lyric change) and “Them There Eyes” is jaunty. Songs by Ashford & Simpson and Anita Baker provide the smoothest nostalgia.
A terrific version of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” to seriously thumping piano, is a staccato to satin, sell-it-brother spiritual.

Holt offers a subdued and wrenching “No Plans for the Future” and a simply gorgeous “Black Butterfly,” whose lustrous tone and eloquent phrasing lifts us in hope of open wings. She just keeps getting better. Simeone’s “End of the World” is as delicate as it is strong. His interpretation of “Strange Fruit” unleashes controlled and gripping cadence; lyrics implore with open arms. Upper octaves create visceral frisson.

Arrangements by Musical Director/pianist Tracy Stark offer easy, textural harmony marrying pop to R&B. Lina Koutrakos’s direction is perceptive in its use of each performer’s assets and visually appealing. With Marco Brehm on bass and Donna Kelly on drums.

By Alix Cohen

© Cabaret Scenes / April 13, 2013

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Marcus Simeone


Metropolitan Room: New York, NY
After a slightly awkward entrance into the room and on to the stage, Marcus Simeone began to cast his spell on the audience assembled at the Metropolitan Room in a show called Haunted. Appropriately named, given that it was the beginning of the Halloween weekend and costumed ghouls and goblins were already walking the New York streets.

Captivated by the word “haunted,” he explained that all his songs would relate in some fashion to the word’s definition. Although not my favorite premise for choosing a song list, in Simeone’s hands, and with his vocal prowess, it made for a powerful set indeed. The highlights were too numerous to mention them all.

With Tracy Stark at the piano, the ever-versatile Steve Doyle on electric bass and Sean Harkness on acoustic guitar, he opened with Floyd Tillman’s “I Love You So much It Hurts,” sung a cappella in his soulful, husky, sweet and seemingly effortless signature sound, and he coupled it with Hank Williams’s “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” backed by the band with a fine, bluesy solo by Sean Harkness.

His incredible note-sustaining ability was evident on phrases from Mercer and Arlen’s “Come Rain or Come Shine,” Stephen Schwartz and Alan Menken’s “Cold Enough to Snow," (from the film Life with Mikey) and Heather Sullivan’s “Somewhere There Lies the Moon.” He allowed his fun side to emerge, in the midst of the heavier laments, with an arrangement of “All of Me” by Harkness, who accompanied Marcus on ukulele.

Given that most people in the room were aware that this has been a particularly difficult year for Simeone personally, several songs took on even greater emotional resonance.  In John Bucchino’s “If I Ever Say I’m Over You,” Rupert Holmes’s “My Father’s Song ” and Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s “I Have a Love,” he revealed just how painfully vulnerable he’s been in certain close relationships and, by contrast, in Sade’s “Soldier of Love” and “No One Like You” (Bateman/Goldsmith/Soltau/Peterson/Zippel), he showed just how very resilient he is as well.

The encore “Haunted” (Simeone and Tracy Stark) perfectly punctuated the theme of the evening and, by so doing, exposed two, perhaps haunted—but very high-spirited— hearts.

Lynn DiMenna
Cabaret Scenes
October 29, 2010

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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

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