Steve Markoff & Patricia Lazzara – By Request Featuring Allison Brewster Franzetti

 Steve Markoff & Patricia Lazzara – By Request Featuring Allison Brewster Franzetti

Steve Markoff & Patricia Lazzara Featuring Allison Brewster Franzetti – By Request – Album Review

I know what you’re thinking…or at the very least, I can guess.  I tend to write a lot of things in advance, so I imagine right now, you’re probably wondering how I went from something like Rap or Metal to this here shiny new album by Steve Markoff & Patricia Lazzara playin’ the flute for ya…and I get it – seems strange right?  Well hey y’all…I consider that a benefit of a cultured upbringing in a household that was capable of playing Mozart and Nine Inch Nails back-to-back and just about everything else in between.  It’s the same reason I recognize most of the titles on By Request without having to look’em all up like most would…I’ve spent a lifetime listening to music of all kinds, and I truly hope that always continues to be the case.  Even most of my own friends think I’m crazy when it comes to my unpredictable listening habits…and maybe you do too…I’m cool with it, I’m used to it, and these doors remain wide open to you all, every bit as much as my mind does when it comes to what my ears should be hearing…so take that!

As the title implies, these two music-makers & their main cohort have compiled a list of tunes to cover that they’ve been asked to play throughout the years, By Request.  Those requests are comin’ in from family, from friends, maybe even YOU out there from their audience & fan-base too – so if you got your votes in quickly enough, you might see the song you wanted to hear right in this very lineup of fifteen.

Love that piano intro by Allison as the record begins and their cover of “Let It Be” by The Beatles starts out…the flute to follow in the lead of the melody is a perfect accompaniment to the song, and you’ll find it’s the kind of performance where you can hear every word in your head as they play their way through.  As they raise up the melody even higher in the verse to follow, the energy in the song also comes to life that much more as well…and between the three of them, Patricia, Steve, and Allison essentially give you everything you love about “Let It Be,” even in instrumental form.  It’s a timely start too – for all those of us that watched the Get Back series over the past year, The Beatles are ever fresh in our hearts & minds & at the top of all our playlists again right now – so to one the youngest of the fans out there right now, Steve’s very own 7 year old grandson “who loves yelling ‘play Steve Markoff’ to Alexa” – you’ll grow up one day and realize what a special request & memory you’ve helped inspire and create in this moment.  This all came out really well, and makes for a smart choice to start the record for sure…that’s a melodic gateway into By Request that’s bound to catch the attention it deserves for a song that never grows old.

Chances are, I’ll even learn a few things in the process of checking out this album…a couple names that I’ve been too busy buried in the independent scene to have learned in the mainstream, like Howie Day.  Don’t get me wrong…I’m sure I’ve heard “Collide” every bit as much as the rest of you as it swept over the globe, I just never knew the guy’s name until I ended up writing this review.  Turns out a few of you know this dude eh?  I might not have known his name personally, but like I said, I’ve had that melody of his song wedged into my brain for the rest of time just like each and every one of YOU know that you have as well.  I felt like the main hooks of “Collide” gave this duo a real chance to shine bright with how expressive and uplifting the main melody is, but you’ll also get an excellent opportunity to hear how the layers of flute from Patricia & Steve are able to complement each other from the high-end to the low.  Both entirely essential when it comes to making a song like “Collide” work…which I suppose is still fairly true to say of any of these tunes…but you get it – like I said, have a listen to it when this album comes out on June 21st this year and you’ll be able to hear how the separation and clarity work in tandem to create a stronger mix of sound shared between them and results we can all appreciate.  Perhaps that’s another one of the best ways I can describe their music to ya…you don’t have to be dedicated flautists to enjoy what they do…you really only have to have your love for music & an instrumentally open mind.

Back in November of last year, I would have talked about “I (Just) Died In Your Arms Tonight.”  Though I never really re-read what I’ve written when I’m writing a new review, I’m sure the odds are that I had great things to say about it.  Not only do they perform it well to their high-quality standards, but they’ve also picked one of what I suppose you’d consider to be my own ‘guilty pleasures’ as it were…I suppose – I know I’m the one writing this and could choose to say anything else to describe it, but that’s probably somewhat apt in the sense that it’d be a song technically far outside of what I’d normally seek out on my playlists, yet still a huge candidate for my top ten…like, as in, ever.  “I (Just Died In Your Arms Tonight)” is a spectacularly well written song with incredible hooks and its own completely amazing vibe that feels like it sticks to the core of your soul…I’ve loved this tune from the moment I heard it as a young kid, and even now as an old man, I still dig it.  The very definition of timeless, and a great inclusion on By Request – you can read my original review on the Markoff, Lazzara, and Franzetti collaboration by clicking here.

I’ve been in a whole lot of rooms filled with music in my lifetime to-date…but I gotta admit, I’ve never sat in one where two flautists where there just riffin’ it up…and I can’t help but think I’ve been missing out after listening to their cover of Clapton’s “Layla.”  Or Derek And The Dominos…depending on your era and dedication to accuracy I suppose…but you get it, you know exactly what song I’m referring to, because if you’ve ever stood by a radio at some point in time throughout your LIFE, you’ve heard “Layla” and likely many, many times.  What will surprise you though, is just how well-suited a track like that is to the sound of the flute, and how remarkable this particular performance genuinely IS.  I don’t know that you can necessarily describe the flute as ‘rock n’ roll’ outside of Jethro Tull in many instances…but here in this cover of “Layla,” I’d have to argue otherwise…I’m not sure that you can’t define it that way when you listen to a version like this one.  Because there’s no doubt here – they are indeed, a-rockin.’  You’ll have to get all the technical details of what’s happening within their technique from them directly – they’re a million times more versed in what they’re actually doing with the flute to make things sound as great as they do – but rest assured, whatever tricks they’ve learned throughout the years are certainly required here to create this cover, and they use their many talents with justified confidence on display.  They’ve always walked a fine line when it comes to what they choose to cover…you want recognizable, but not so recognizable that listeners won’t give a cover variation a legitimate chance – and even though I’d say “Layla” is about as big as a song could ever really be, they’ve made the most of their own version.  And admit it…it’s rad to think about Patricia, Steve, and Allison all together & jammin’ it up, ain’t it just?

“Leather And Lace” would be one of those tunes where I learned the name of the song itself for the very first time…it’s by Don Henley and Stevie Nicks, and I’ve probably heard it dozens & dozens of times, if not hundreds throughout the years, but the name always escaped me.  Beautiful tune to begin with, and another track that really highlights the sweetness these three share between them in their musicianship – I’d be willing to bet that a whole lot of people out there will find “Leather And Lace to be one of the most memorable highlights on By Request.  I’m pretty certain it was up there in my top favorites from this record…there’s just something so stunningly natural about the way this song comes out…perhaps that’s that effect of comin’ after a song I was convinced Patricia, Steve, and Allison were ROCKING OUT on…but yeah…the reality regardless, is that the softer, more gentle side of their sound gets revealed in truly special & spectacular ways on “Leather And Lace.”  In my opinion, it’s a version that highlights the difference between a song they can play, and a song that really means something to them that they want to play – make sense?  Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure they’re happy to play for you all just about any ol’ time…but there are songs that, as artists & musicians, we feel that connection to 10% more than the rest…and I’d argue that based on what I hear in this cover, “Leather And Lace” is that song, for them.

Fun fact about this place I run here – Boz Scaggs and I have a very strange relationship…and I have a memory that is both shoddy & also way too long.  I grew up with my old man puttin’ the Boz on mixtape cassettes when I was young…and years later, I found myself trying to describe the sound of a band called Spaceport Union…and I was busy riffin’ in some intro I was recording…and out tumbled the man’s name in reference – Boz Scaggs.  To be crystal clear, Spaceport Union sounds absolutely nothing at all like Boz Scaggs…something their lead-singer Caroline and I still laugh about to this very day.  I was just trying to fill the space with the memories floating around in my brain for a reference to compare them to, and it’s one of the times I whiffed the bat the widest, as opposed to crackin’ it for a homerun.  Lessons learned.  Anyhow!  In Steve Markoff’s world, “Look What You’ve Done To Me” was actually his wedding song – and thus, has been suggested by his very own wife, By Request, recently for her birthday, now appearing here on the album for you all to enjoy.  Love the low-end melodies of the flute with the twinkling keys of the piano on this cover…all-in-all, it’s a version that you can really feel the emotion in, and quite likely, once again, that’s the magic of the extra X-factor supplied by endearing personal attachment that helps to create such a significantly heartfelt feeling when we listen to it.  You’ll find no complaints from me here – I think they played it with a whole lot of genuine passion, and I dig the sentiment of its inclusion.  That lucky Mrs. Markoff I tells ya…I sure hope she likes the flute!  She’s bound to have heard plenty of it over the years with Steve I’m sure…and I’m equally sure she must love it nearly as much as he does too in order to stay together year after year, am I right?  At the very least, it’s gotta be sweet to bring back the memories of their wedding dance for this record, and kudos to this man for being a great husband.

Speaking of wives…”My Sweet Lady” would be more of a part of my own wife’s upbringing than mine – I missed the whole John Denver & James Taylor type-sounds…and to this very day, that’s a looming gap in my knowledge.  So for myself personally, “My Sweet Lady” practically could have been an original for this trio of talents, because it’s that new for me to listen to…it’s not a song I was familiar with not knowing any of John Denver’s songs at all really.  I’ve gone back and listened to the original now…and I’ll admit…I’m still not 100% sure what I was missing, or if I’ll ever feel like I was really missing it – quite honestly, I prefer the version I heard first, which is the one here on By Request.  There’s something really wonderful about the way the flute is able to bring melody to the surface…and if I’m being real with ya, I felt like Patricia and Allison have done a much better job of bringing this song’s sweetness out into the open.  And I suppose this is what I’ve been saying all along…songs like “My Sweet Lady” are actually the ones I advocate on behalf of the most…this is that ability to take something that’s been done before and completely make it new again.  Chances are there are tons of you out there that recognize Denver’s music more than I ever will…but by that same token, it’s a lesser known hit in comparison to so many of the songs that are on By Request, thereby giving the trio’s talent that much more of a shot of being THE reason as to why we love what we hear, as opposed to simply recognizing something we already know.  Ironically enough, The Moody Blues also fall into the same category for me and inside the black hole of my knowledge gap…it’s the single band that my wife makes fun of me the most for not ever recognizing.  So there you go, the joke’s on her…because now I nearly always do – and this trio has chosen to take on what I’m sure is regarded as their biggest hit, “Nights In White Satin.”  I very much dig just how many tunes on this record of theirs that I’m not automatically familiar with…usually listening to a cover record comes with a very large eye-roll from me, knowing the majority of the lineup inside & out from the millions of other covers that already exist on every YouTuber’s channel.  While there’s no disputing that they take on a bunch of well-known tunes, the range of the timeline of when these songs originally came out makes the whole experience in listening unique, because you won’t find them all together that often, if ever.  “Nights In White Satin” actually seemed like one of the most natural covers once again…like it was a song that had always been waiting for a couple of flautists to come along and flute it up…and here we are!  Steve and Patricia do a superb job in drawing out this song’s mix of mystery and melody…Allison holds the fort as strongly as ever…and all-in-all, I felt like they ended up with one of the record’s most engaging and compelling covers as a result of their combined efforts – this is a quality cut.

For myself, listening to By Request came with a healthy helping of humility…it’s a real reminder of the fact that, no matter how many songs I’ve listened to & no matter how much I might ever feel like I’ve heard it all – I sure as heck haven’t.  Another one of my favorite tracks on this album…like…probably in the top three, actually came in around the fortieth minute of this seventy-plus minute-long album, with a cover of “When I Was Your Man” by Bruno Mars.  Now THAT dude…is a phenomenal singer!  And I know for a certainty that I know about a tenth of what he’s put out into the world…I actually somehow escaped this song entirely if I’m being honest with ya, which again, made this particular experience all new for me.  Sounds like it’s slightly slower here, but man…what a beautiful song, and what a wonderful cover version they’ve created!  No joke…just like I felt about the song by John Denver earlier on, because I ended up hearing this trio’s version first, that’s the one that seemed to stick with me the most.  Y’all know me…I always do my research as best I can…so listening to this album has pretty much been like listening to two albums in checking out a bunch of originals I didn’t know and tracking them down & whatnot…and yeah…Bruno does OKAY with it (you know, for a Grammy winner), but I’d argue this trio of instrumental talents do more for its inherent sweetness and melodic power without using a single word.  So kudos once again to them all…I’m not a regular listener to Bruno’s tunes, but basically everything I’ve ever heard from the guy has blown me away in some way…and considering the fact that I didn’t feel that way in listening to his version AFTER I’d experienced the beauty of their cover, that speaks volumes on behalf of what Steve, Patricia, and Allison are capable of & the magic they bring to the music they play.  And yes…I get it…I probably SHOULD know this song by now because everything Mars touches is gold – but in my defense, YES…I do live under a rock, I’ve made a comfortable home here, and I ain’t leaving it.

Finally – “Freebird!”  Okay…I’m kidding – but it IS a song that I know, and one of my favorites of all-time.  Chances are, I share that opinion with many of you – “Don’t Dream It’s Over” by Crowded House.  And here’s where I’ll deviate from everything I’ve said so far and give you the opposite opinion from what you just experienced on that last track…I wasn’t nearly as sure about the trio’s variation and what they brought to it.  I think it’d honestly be nuts to think we’re all going to like every flute variation better than the originals they came from…and I’m actually surprised that this hasn’t caught up to them by now, but here we are, on track ten of fifteen, and I’ve finally found the slightest crack in their armor.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not at all running over to my stereo to turn this off…it’s nothing quite so detrimental – but this is perhaps the most I’ve felt the difference between what I know, and what they brought to their own version…or the widest gap between what we recognize and the adaptation they’ve created.  Whichever you feel it is, you’ll still find those pieces you know by heart…and those still come through strong enough…I dunno…I think there’s such a hallowed place in music’s history for this song that it’d be like the equivalent of covering “Stairway To Heaven” or “Bohemian Rhapsody” in that you probably just shouldn’t.  I enjoyed still enjoyed it…but just like I wasn’t running to turn it off, I wasn’t running to turn it up either…they play a bit with the timing here in my opinion, and that affects the fluidity & smoothness we naturally associate with the original…argh…it’s often quite impossible not to compare cover versions, even when they’re as different as they would be in bringing a rock ballad into an all flute/piano combo.

LOVE how the piano of “Saturday In The Park” sparks the record back to life…this whole song was the uplifting experience it needed to be.  Much like “Don’t Dream It’s Over” in the sense that there are pieces that really need to be kept intact for it to work – this time around, everything you wanna hear is right where it should be, and the trio comes out with one of their most lively and inspired moments on By Request.  I mean…if you can resist the charm of this Chicago tune, in any of its forms no matter how you get exposed to it…then you’re probably made of granite stone instead with blood running through your veins that has the consistency of lumpy oatmeal, and you haven’t felt your pulse rise in years.  It’s just one of those songs can’t help but put listeners into a good mood – Allison, Patricia, and Steve have preserved the much needed magic of this tune and delivered a whole lot of fun here.  I’m still gonna have to give the original song the win overall, but I did really enjoy hearing the three of these players cut loose for a moment or two and prove that instrumental tunes never have to be bland…they can be every bit as fun, creative, artistic, and addictive…”Saturday In The Park” just sounds like it’s 100% FUN to play.  For me, it’s one of those real nostalgia trips…not only did I listen to the version on By Request, but I was having so much of a great time re-living this tune all over again that I went and played the original a bunch of times as well.  Everybody & their dog should make way more time for “Saturday In The Park.”

One of the most endearing adaptations and rewarding tunes to listen to on By Request came from A-Ha’s legendary hit, “Take On Me.”  Slowed down & mellow, once again, the trio of talents found a beautiful way of bringing the core of the melody straight to the surface, shining right there in the open & presented in a whole new light for ya.  Because let’s be real here…we’ve all heard this song countless times…even amongst an entire lineup of hit songs, there’s no question this would still be considered among the most mainstream, or at the very least, one of the tunes that has reached the most amount of ears collectively – it can be extremely tough to bring anything at all ‘new’ to a song like “Take On Me” at this point in its lifespan…yet I’d argue that’s exactly what they’ve done here.  In my opinion, it’s absolutely one of the best they’ve got on this record, and once again, another track that speaks volumes on behalf of what they’re capable of when they put their minds to it.  Words like fascinating, gorgeous, and captivating easily come to mind when you listen to this version of “Take On Me,” because that’s precisely what it is – I’m truly blown away by this cover, and seemingly by the most delicate of means.  It doesn’t at all feel like they intended to come out and knock our socks off with what they accomplish here, but you’ll find the result is the same…through their gentle variation, I felt like they completely came out with one of the strongest & most truly accessible songs to be found on By Request, by a mile.

They know their Clapton & Clapton-related tunes that’s for sure.  Not only have they already proven that on this very record with their cover of “Layla” earlier on, but the man’s work resurfaces again towards the end of By Request with “Tears In Heaven.”  If I had to close my eyes and guess which Clapton-esque cut they’d have sought out as a cover, I probably would have chosen this tune…or perhaps one that they’d already chosen earlier on the release of their album Timeless back in 2020.  There are some songs & melodies that you’d perceive simply to be more well-suited to the goals of a flute adaptation than others, and I’d imagine “Tears In Heaven” probably felt like it was made for the piano & flute every bit as much as it was originally for the guitar when the trio is playing it together.  I think I’m probably still most impressed with “Layla” overall as a result of how massive the range is between the original song & their own variation in their adaptation sound-wise/style-wise…but I’ve really got no issues with any of their covers of Clapton’s tunes, they do a great job with the material.  That’s the thing about amazing songs & songwriters…the material becomes so much more malleable and can easily adapt from one style to the next, no matter how extreme the distance between it all may seem – Steve, Patricia, and Allison prove that time & again with their spins on Eric’s tunes.  “Tears In Heaven” is a naturally sad song…downright devastating really if you know its whole history…and I’m not gonna be the guy to argue that this version makes it any more joyful or happy than its predecessor is, but it’s a truly beautiful tune to revisit again.

How do I feel about “You Raise Me Up,” you ask?  Probably about the same as I did back in January of 2021 when I reviewed it the last time (click here to read it!)…I’m not disputing it’s a quality cut, but it’s never going to be the song I end up ranting & raving over either…I think at this point in its lifespan, we’ve almost all got our own cover of Groban’s megahit recorded somewhere whether we even realize we did it or not.  That’s right!  Check your pockets and your computer files – you don’t remember?  There are that many covers of Josh’s monumental song out there in this world I tell ya…so don’t be too surprised if you did in fact record one of your own & just forgot that it happened.  I think they do as great a job with the material as can potentially be done, especially doing it all entirely by flute & not using the vocals that the song itself is relatively famous for.  And sure, all-in-all, I get the attraction to covering a track like this one, it’s just never going to be my personal favorite and I’ve heard it already from them…it doesn’t mean it can’t be YOUR favorite of the bunch on By Request, and if it is, you’ll get nothing but a high-five from yours truly.

They ended their new album on one of their best…a real understated performance of “You’re Beautiful” by James Blunt.  Similar to Groban’s hit in the sense that there are a million & one covers of this song out there, but different in the sense that it feels like there’s been a bit more time passed since you probably heard the last one, and it’s that much more welcome back as a result.  The trio plays this one exceptionally well though…another perfect example of a cover where you’ll feel yourself recalling every word along the way, even though none are ever used.  The highest of the high notes stand out gorgeously, but in contrast, so do the low ones too…the layers of their music combined are generally what make the music of Steve, Patricia, and Allison all work as well as it does, and that remains to be the case here in the finale of By Request.  At seventy-two plus-minutes in length, I’m sure there’s a chance they’re making a tall ask of the everyday listener that isn’t enveloped deep in the world of flute music – and if I had any advice for them whatsoever, it might be to shorten the length of a record in that regard to give those folks a chance as well…the regular lovers of the instrument will have no problem pushing the repeat button if they want more, which I’m confident they will.  Other than that though, there’s really not much else I can say – they should be proud of these performances they’ve put in from start to finish…I felt like the recordings were great, the way they played together was excellent all-around, and the choices they made in terms of what to cover kept the album’s lineup really engaging to experience.  “You’re Beautiful” seemed like a great way of summing up their new album…a reminder that you are beautiful, you are loved, and that the music you’ve been listening to, was truly made with YOU in mind.

Lest we forget, this set-list is by design & By Request, and I’d imagine it’ll lead to an encore in the future.  It’d be entirely well-deserved if that is indeed the case – they’ve done a stellar job with this set-list from start to finish, not only entertaining us with great covers & instrumentation, but educating us all as well.

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