Rare is the musician who starts out in a label’s front office as Steve Tyrell did, working in A&R, PR and production with the likes of Burt Bacharach, Hal David, Dionne Warwick, Ray Charles and B.J. Thomas, amid the Brill Building’s creative whirlwind. Which helps explain why the gravel-voiced singer has such a deep, genre-spanning knowledge of songs, and why he’s so skilled at taking any tune’s emotional pulse. Ever since his big break as a performer, when his lilting rendition of “The Way You Look Tonight” featured prominently in the 1991 hit film Father of the Bride, Tyrell has remained a spellbinder, unwaveringly consistent in his straight-ahead, embellishment-free readings.
So A Song for You comes as a welcome addition to the Tyrell discography, while offering little in the way of surprise. Guitarist Bob Mann shaped most of the arrangements, all elegantly tailored. A revolving array of strong players—including Mann; pianists Andy Ezrin, Alan Pasqua and Bill Cantos; and bassists David Finck, Trey Henry and Chuck Berghoffer—elevate the bespoke ambience. The playlist offsets charmingly affective treatments of Great American Songbook cornerstones (“Come Rain or Come Shine,” “Try a Little Tenderness,” “When I Fall in Love,” “Them There Eyes”) with solid pop hits, ranging from Leon Russell’s somber title track to Sacha Distel’s breezy “The Good Life.” Most intriguing: Tyrell’s moving take on Jackie Wilson’s “To Be Loved,” arranged by Alan Broadbent, and his tender rendering of the Roy Clark-associated “Come Live With Me.”