Review by: Thomas Mills, Guest Contributor
Internal (body of Post) Photo Credits: D. Sabella

Koutrakos, Harkness, Simeone
Clearly Now
Don’t Tell Mama
Feb 23 ,2019

In “Clearly Now” (starring Lina Koutrakos, Sean Harkness and Marcus Simeone) the age-old term “vocal stylings” is enjoying a 21st Century renaissance. The term was originally used to describe the vocal prowess of performers that brought their own unique voice (and style) to their interpretations. These were incomparable singers: i.e “The cool jazz styling of Ella Fitzgerald” or the “vocal stylings of a Barbra Streisand” (or a Della Reese or even a Frank Sinatra).

The term then fell into disuse, today used more as a punchline: “The cool vocal stylings of William Shatner” (or Pia Zadora). But, thankfully, sitting, listening to Koutrakos, Harkness and Simeone I was reminded of the term’s original, and complimentary, meaning.

Harkness, Koutrakos, Simeone

Within this unique trio are three incredibly distinctive performers who deliver poignant solos, riveting duets and fun-filled, rock the roof, jam loving trios, Harkness, with his dexterity and emotional command of the guitar, Koutrakos with her “down and dirty” bluesy, sensual vocals, and Simeone with his fearless use of an incredible voice. They are all very different performers. And yet, somehow, coalesce into a seamless unit.

 

Sean Harkness

The show opened with a rousing rendition of With a Little Help From My Friends (Lennon, McCartney). They sang it as compadres, the very friends that the song inferences, as if they had, in fact, experienced many of the events of the song, together in real life. This opening propelled us into an evening that promised a no-holds-barred, fantastic fun-filled night. And, the audience was not disappointed. The evening was indeed fun-filled, and there were some truly standout moments as well.

Sean Harkness’ playful instrumental rendition of My Favorite Things (Hammerstein, Rodgers) was one such moment. He took us on a journey we never imagined, sometimes a latin feel, other times to other playful places unknown. He surprised us at every new turn, and perhaps the biggest surprise was at the end; from the virtuosic he brought the piece back to its simplest and purest form.

Lina Koutrakos & Sean Harkness (foreground)

Among my favorite moments of Koutrakos was Mess Outta Love (Koutrakos, Field). In her rendition, there was humor, strength, pain and pathos. And, Simeone gave us a heartfelt and poignant interpretation of Ain’t No Way to Love Me (Oleta Adams).

Together Koutrakos and Simeone (accompanied by Harkness) gave us the haunting For Now (Koutrakos, J. Rogers, D. Gross), which felt more like an intimate scene than a song. One was almost embarrassed to be eavesdropping on such a private moment, this incredible piece of theater.

Sean Harkness & Marcus Simeone

That’s what struck me about the entire evening, three distinct vocalists who “clearly now” use their vocal pyrotechnic attributes at every turn, but do not to ignore the lyric in lieu of a cool riff, or heart stopping high note, for the sake of bravura. Instead, they use their unique gifts only to infuse the lyric with more meaning.

Some may argue that Harkness is technically not a vocalist. But, I challenged that. Harkness makes the guitar “sing” with all the emotional colors of any singer I’ve ever heard. And, of course Koutrakos and Simeone are incomparable.

Lyrics, vocals and style are all in attendance for this wonderful “jam session,” a celebration of lyric, life and music itself. What more could one ask for?

The trio is currently in residency at Don’t Tell Mama, performing monthly. Check the DTM website for details.