BLUE is beautifully deep at Don’t Tell Mama
Take your broken heart
turn it into art
In 1969, Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, the famous Swiss-American psychiatrist, divided the grieving process into five stages, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Marcus Simeone is no stranger to grief. In addition to being an accomplished singer of blues, jazz, soul and R&B, he is a therapist and social worker. But his knowledge of grief is not just academic. Having lost his companion in 2017, he has gone through the five stages of mourning and knows their colors. With his musical partners, Sean Harkness and Lina Koutrakos, he took advantage of this experience and made an art of it. Their album Blue is a profound expression of grief and its transformative power in the life of a passionate artist. He turned to Koutrakos to shape the album into a cabaret event. I was lucky enough to catch the latest iteration of Blue last night at Don’t Tell Mama.
Marcus Simeone is a singer of great variety and a lot of soul. He is not afraid to go to very private and emotional places. He is also a born storyteller, creating vivid images with just a few words. Sean Harkness plays guitar like he’s made a deal with the devil. His fingers do things that should be impossible. He plays every inch of the instrument, not only the strings but the fingerboard, the frets, the bridge and he even uses the body of the guitar as percussion. The partnership between these two artists is so simpatico, it feels like one mind.
They opened with an excerpt from “Rainy Days and Mondays” by the Carpenters married with “Here’s That Rainy Day”, possibly one of the bluesest songs in the American songbook. It was a perfect mood boost. They followed up with an excellent read of “Blue Side”. Sean Harkness did the first of several great instrumentals in “When Sunny Gets Blue”. Marcus Simeone found beautiful nuances in “Nothing Compares 2 U” by Sinéad O’Connor. Harkness added her voice in a duet on “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby”.
Sean Harkness gave us a musical history lesson by singing “Out of Nowhere”. Passionate about Trekkie, he explained that when the creators of Star Trek put on the show, they struggled to explain a space show to network executives. They would describe the credit streak by saying that a spaceship “came out of nowhere.” They remembered this phrase while writing the theme song and based the now famous tune on the chord progressions from Johnny Green’s 1931 aria.
Simeone gave a sultry take on the great jazz standard “Angel Eyes. Harkness gave us one of his original songs with“ Holy Days. ”Particularly fond of Simeone’s interpretation of Sondheim’s“ Losing My Mind ”, which ‘it started with the song bridge. It was a thoughtful reinvention of that familiar classic. They gave us a surprising rendition of Duke Ellington’s flamboyant song “Mood Indigo”. I love it. it’s when a artist can make you see a standard in a whole new light.
Harkness and Simeone saved the best for the last part of their show. Harkness gave us a brilliant instrumental version of “My Favorite Things”, which he presented “with apologies to Julie Andrews”. It was so delicious, no apology was needed. Marcus Simone delivered a devastating 11 o’clock number in Sam Smith’s “Lay Me Down”. He had the kind of internal purpose that cabaret singers should study in a master class.
They ended their show with the delicious “Skipping Under the Rainbow” by Julia Fordham. It was a nice full circle ending for a show that started with rain and ended with rainbows. Congratulations to Lina Koutrakos for giving this show this kind of structure. A bereavement program is a risky proposition. But Marcus Simeone, Sean Harkness, and Lina Koutrakos have avoided anything cutesy or sentimental. The show was cathartic, an expression of a universal humanity. It was a commendable glimpse into the heartbroken artists with a unique and sensitive perspective on life.
For more information on Marcus Simeone, visit marcussimeone.com. To learn more about Sean Harkness, visit seanharkness.com. For other great acts at Don’t Tell Mama, visit donttellmamanyc.com.