Turns out, some wonderful young New York-based singers decided to celebrate those legendary musicians in an even more creative way—cover some of their hits with arrangements for five voices that give the classic songs new life. The result: Marquee Five’s 8-Track Throwback (a reference to the clunky and thankfully short-lived format of taped recordings that lived from the mid ‘60s to the disco era), probably the coolest collection of vocal group harmonies since Manhattan Transfer (whose first album also has an honored place on my wall).
But this wonderful CD almost never happened.
Marquee Five was born in 2009 when four Christmas-caroling friends—bass Mick Bleyer, tenor Adam West Hemming, soprano Vanessa Parvin and alto Sierra Rein—decided they might produce a good sound singing non-holiday music together. After they added MAC Award-winning cabaret mezzo-soprano Julie Reyburn, the newly formed group performed a Kander and Ebb tribute show at the Metropolitan Room, a debut that earned them a 2010 MAC Award for Best Vocal Duo/Group.
Early this year, they wowed New York cabaret audiences with their tribute to songs from the Age of Aquarius which the period writer Tom Wolfe called the “Me Decade.”
An extended version of their 8-Track Throwback show would be a natural for a CD, but without a recording contract or a producing angel to back them, Marquee Five had to finance their project through the Internet. In less than two months, the group raised $15,000 from individual donors through the website Kickstarter.com and the donors should be assured that their contributions were well spent.
You won’t need to listen to the classic rock radio station if you have this CD playing in your car or on ITunes. All terrific singers in their own right, as a combo, Marquee Five’s voices complement each other extremely well, primarily thanks to Hemming’s tight and clever arrangements. While Manhattan Transfer’s four-part harmonies and intricate vocalese transformed specific songs, Hemming and Marquee Five excel on the kind of medleys and mash-ups that would make the kids from Glee jealous.
With support from the impeccable Musical Director and pianist Mark Janas (co-producer and host of the MAC Award-winning The Salon open-mic series), Matt Scharfglass on bass guitar, Wally Usiatynski on drums and Tony Romano on acoustic/electric guitar, 8-Track Throwback launches with an awesome and alliterative Stevie Wonder medley of “Sir Duke,” “Superstition” and “Signed, Sealed, Delivered, (I’m Yours),” highlighted by some fine scatting. The group displays great teamwork on a jazzy version of Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend,” before Reyburn leads in unraveling a great rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue.” The only real clinker in the entire CD—and a missed opportunity—comes next with Hemming’s meandering mess of an arrangement on Van Morrison’s “Moondance,” but he redeems himself taking the vocal lead on Hal David and Burt Bacharach’s haunting ballad “A House Is Not a Home,” with a touch of Billy Joel’s “Honesty” thrown in. Rein and Parvin do Janis Joplin and Joni Mitchell proud, respectively, on “Move Over” (with a terrific guitar riff from Romano) and “A Case of You.”
The group sounds positively gospel-like on two of Hemming’s best medley arrangements: the Simon & Garfunkel combination of “Scarborough Fair”/“The Sound of Silence”/“The Boxer,” and the coupling of Leonard Cohen’s “Bird on the Wire” with his “Hallelujah.”
The ladies show off their country chops on Dolly Parton’s rousing “Jolene,” while Hemming and Bleyer channel Elton John and Stevie Wonder on a mash-up of John’s “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word” with Wonder’s “All in Love Is Fair.”
But perhaps the most clever combo of all is the CD’s bonus track, an inspired mash-up of Barry Manilow’s “Copocabana” (lyrics by Bruce Sussman and Jack Feldman) with Tito Puente’s (and later Santana’s) hit “Oye Como Va,” with fun scats from the themes of The Pink Panther and Sex in the City, with subtle vocal snippets from the Donna Summer hit “Last Dance” (Paul Jabara) and “Ease on Down the Road” from the musical The Wiz. Let’s hear the kids from Glee pull that one off.
Listening to this debut CD, it’s clear that “Marquee” is the right name for five smooth, synchronized and powerful singers who seamlessly blend their voices together for a distinctive group sound. If I ever decide to decorate a wall using CD covers, 8-Track Throwback will earn a prominent space.
For information on how to purchase a copy of 8-Track Throwback, go to the group’s website at www.marqueefive.com.