Steve Markoff & Patricia Lazzara – Timeless – Album Review
I know what you’re thinking. You’re looking at the album cover and you’re like, “that’s Metal.”
And hey, y’ain’t wrong. Flutes would technically be made of metal, or at least a metal alloy in most cases.
I’m simply addressing the elephant in the room in a jovial manner, I assure you; but there’s truth to what’s been said as well – this is indeed an album of songs played nearly entirely on two flutes. While that’s probably going to be one of the rarest sightings you’ll find on these pages of ours in many ways, we’ve always celebrated music that walks a different path than the rest do out there. Steve Markoff & Patricia Lazzara know what I’m talking about…I’m sure they do. Considering the fact that the obstacles potentially facing a flute-based act in today’s modern world of music could be monumental…honestly, I think it’s safe to immediately assume these two fine musicians do what they do, because they love it.
I’m not saying it’s impossible to get out there, just being objective and understanding of the challenge it presents Steve & Patricia with. That being said, Timeless isn’t their first record, and I’ve already got information here that tells me it’s not their last either – they are beating the odds impressively; finding success through noteworthy passion, tremendous skills, and truly clever ways of getting their music into a large audience of ears. Timeless for example, is a record stocked full of cover songs – that’s right, FLUTE-based cover tunes – and one that borrows a massive range of songs from throughout music’s history to the right here & now at that. Personally, I’d sit & listen to this all day long without hesitation. It’s one thing to have a great record full of songs we’re pretty much all familiar with, recorded through an approach we don’t find very often…that’s always going to stand out for one reason or another…but it sure helps when the players are as talented as Steve and Patricia are in bringing a sound we all love like the flute to a relevant platform for the people out there. And I’m tellin’ ya folks, what you’ll hear in the sound of these two playing…has the magic to pull listeners in, and make the classic flute sound Timeless.
In fact…not only is this a record for everyone in many ways…but the less you might know about the flute, perhaps the better. Timeless is an album designed for people out there that really don’t get a lot of exposure to the instrument, hence the impressive array of cover songs that line the walls of the set-list, containing something somewhere that you’re guaranteed to have liked or loved in the past from all kinds of styles & sounds, now redone in flute-form for you to experience anew. C’mon people – that’s awesome! Pass or fail, I would have admired the sentiment of their intentions & ambitions to begin with – like I was saying though, just so happens we get lucky this time around in that Steve & Patricia are genuinely really great musicians and can capably back up their goals of bringing the flute to the people.
Easy listening & soul-soothing, they start out the album with a tune I’ve always got time for – Elton John’s “Your Song.” Face the facts, it’s a slice of music’s history we pretty much all couldn’t live without and a massively recognizable song that everyone loves – it also makes for a highly welcoming gateway into Timeless: Hits Of Love And Hope From Pop, Rock, & Soft Rock by Steve Markoff and Patricia Lazzara. You’ll also hear Allison Brewster Franzetti on the piano, who does an exquisite job throughout the record of accompanying the two flautists and becomes the true backbone at the core of this record, a trend of which she starts immediately with “Your Song.” Together they go on to produce impeccably enticing results as they soar through the gentle melody at the heart of “Your Song” – I loved how recognizable the core elements of the original are, and I loved how genuinely easy it was right from the drop to sit & give music like this my undivided attention.
“Perfect” was freakin’ fantastic. There are many interpretations, variations, and versions you’ll hear on this record work out really well…and then there are a few special others in the mix too, like “Perfect,” that reveal the insightful cleverness of how these artists can hear things in music that others just can’t. If you were to have looked at this idea on paper before hearing it…would you have thought what Ed Sheeran creates would have suited the sound of the flute? I bet even if you somehow thought that made sense to begin with that you’ll find the results here far exceed your expectations. You’ll find a lot of insightful crossover potential explored throughout this record, and a great mix of the modern-day with the classics from the past as it plays on. Songs like “Perfect” might have a leg up on some of the others by sheer proximity of what’s happening in music right now, and you never know, an artist with the collaborative spirit like Ed Sheeran has might just hear this version of his song played by Steve, Patricia, and Allison one day and pull’em right up on stage. It’s possible! The real bottom line here is that they’ve got a wonderful way of playing that fully gets across the melody in the music & vocals of the originals by substituting those vocal-melodies with the instrumentation – and that works, because they play with the true personality, character, charisma, and charm you’d find Ed singing with on “Perfect.”
Honestly…someone tell me what’s not to love here! They even covered “We’ve Only Just Begun!” Here’s a secret about me that I’ve probably never put into print before…if push came to shove, I bet ya I’d have to include The Carpenters in my top twenty acts of all-time…and that’s coming from a guy that’s either never played a full record, or has barely ever even put them on. What I can tell ya, is I’ve never once even remotely thought of turning them off, that’s for sure. Doubtful that I could explain this if I even tried…but it’s like each one of their songs instantly becomes a part of me…it’s always been like that – The Carpenters speak straight to the heart and their music is literally ALWAYS around, still to this day…just open a window and have a listen – someone out there is probably playing them right now. So do I love this too? You bet. The quietest moments & most subtle parts of the melody allow the flutes to reach their most bold notes, supported by the quaint friendliness & comfort of the piano…a song like “We’ve Only Just Begun” is the very definition of a Timeless tune if you ask me. Beautifully well played, Steve, Patricia, and Allison get right to the heart of the endearing emotion in this song & never let it go.
Song selection plays a huge role in enticing us in to listen to a record like this…but it’s not just about choosing ‘great’ songs, so much as it is about choosing the right great songs that ALSO strongly connect to the artists playing them…otherwise all is lost. That’s why hearing a song like Clapton’s “Wonderful Tonight” comes out so well for Markoff, Lazzara, and Franzetti…you can tell they’ve all tapped right into the heartbeat of what makes this melody as exceptional as it truly is, and they’ve brought every ounce of its sweetness right to the surface for you all to enjoy through the version they’ve created as a result. What songs like “Wonderful Tonight” reveal to me most, is the sheer balance in the musicianship and performance you’ll find; I couldn’t pick out a single star between them, only the sound they share as an entity combined. As in, they sound amazing together…they truly do…you won’t find any weak points, just three players that all have the interest, passion, and commitment to the craft your ears are craving. You could hear a pin drop next to me as I sat still & listened to “Wonderful Tonight” – like any set of songs out there, some are always easier to take-in than others will be; and when it comes right down to it, between these three players combined, they’ve come up with one of the most easy-to-listen-to versions of this song that you’ll find. Particularly, moments like around the 3:40-ish mark, where there’s the largest degree of separation & space, and the melody is at its boldest but most vulnerable too, that’s where you find that the musicianship, passion, & genuine love of their craft shine at their most sincere.
Some of these tunes are gigantic cuts from the greatest of the great out there…like you have to actually be brave to make a whole lot of these choices Steve and Patricia have made…tackling the work of legends like Carole King is no easy task, which is what they do in their cover of “So Far Away” from the iconic Tapestry album. First & foremost…if that’s not an album you’re already familiar with, I give you full permission to stop what you’re doing right now to go listen and educate yourself – it’s incredible to say the very least. Secondly – I think these three players in Markoff, Lazzara, and Franzetti have done an excellent job of preserving the humble sweetness in “So Far Away” that will please many listeners familiar with in King’s original. At the very least, you have to admire the way they play together and how their layers of instrumentation interact so impressively without intruding on each other’s space. Like the professionals they are, they know how to support & complement what each other player brings to the music they make, and you hear how that trust in their relationship leads to stellar results through songs like “So Far Away” and the way they play with such a unified approach.
Much like the pleasant surprise of “Perfect” earlier on in the lineup, I think Tom Petty’s “American Girl” also exceeded every expectation I could have had. Steve, Patricia, and Allison display a mastery of melody, character, and personality within their combined efforts here – you can really feel the album spark itself to life with the energy & enthusiasm stoking the fire & fun on “American Girl.” I ended up talking to my wife about this record…so I’ve road-tested what the opinion might be on hearing an all-flute/piano version of “American Girl” – and lemme tell ya folks, you should have seen her eyes light-up at the very idea of listening to it. No joke! And I’d imagine, it’s a long way removed from what she loves in Kings Of Leon, Tragically Hip, and Jack Johnson, know what I mean? But that’s a key factor here…it tells me that there’s perhaps more potential and space for a record like this out there than I initially might have thought…if she’d be excited to listen, then in theory, quite a few others out there should be too. Anyhow…what I can tell ya, is that I again felt like this was one of the best surprises on the record and one of the songs you could likely bank on to be the most widely accessible out there to the people listening…like as in, if you can resist the charming personality & attitude in the music here, you’re a much stronger person than I am. Stubborn too though…resistance is futile if you ask me, and serves you no good purpose – it’s much better to give in to the relentless charm of a cover like this version of Petty’s “American Girl,” turn it up, and enjoy it for every sweet second of its stunning accessibility.
I mean…you’d be the only person on earth to fast forward through “Yesterday” if ya did it, wouldn’t you? I’m certainly not gonna do it…not now, not ever. Steve and Patricia certainly have a perfectly clear understanding of what the definition of Timeless really is – and their selection of songs to cover completely confirms that. While there’s a degree of safety that comes with the recognition, there’s also a ton of expectations to live up to as well…so don’t let the gentle sound of “Yesterday” fool you – it’s still remarkably involved, and the pressure is on whenever a beloved classic by The Beatles is brought out. Keep in mind that, as far as the smoothness & easy-to-listen-to sound is concerned here, a lot of that is completely due to the professionalism & skill on display – and you can certainly hear that in this version of “Yesterday.” There are songs like “Perfect” that come out great – and there are songs like “Your Song” or “Yesterday” that come out even more connected to the artists playing the music, because you can feel how familiar they are with the core of the melody in the strength of which they play their parts. In the case of a song like “Yesterday,” I’d imagine all three players know this tune inside & out and likely have for years & years…and rightly so – we all should be that well-versed when it comes to The Beatles – but the point is, that degree of comfort and familiarity with the material leads them to excellent results.
As much as I love a great cover song that I can recognize – I’m easily just as big of a fan of an all-new experience…and that’s what I got with “Verdi Cries” personally. Wasn’t a song I knew prior…I’m sure some of you out there might know it by name…for me, it wasn’t a title I recognized…but as soon as they started to play into the heart of this melody, I felt like I had somehow known this song my entire life. According to what I could find on the internet, it traces back to my era…it’s 10000 Maniacs/Natalie Merchant…which means there’s a great chance I’ve heard this tune many times growing up at some point, whether floating through the windows of someone’s house in the summertime or back in the ol’ MuchMusic days here in Canada – that’s aka ‘Canadian MTV’ for the rest of you out there. The point is – you’ll likely feel the same way…some of these songs you’ll know by heart, others you’ll recognize right away…and some will be all-new-but-familiar experiences like “Verdi Cries” was for me. In a word, what they pull off together on this song is purely captivating – no matter how many times I spun my way through this record, my fascination with this song never dulled and I’d absolutely put this up there with the best of what you’ll find on Timeless. The use of space is impeccable…the amount of heart & sincerity that they pour into this melody is audible perfection…you couldn’t ask more of them here. The quietest moments are some of the most magnificent, majestic, and all-out beautiful…hearing these three talented players support each other so strongly in the most delicate environment is a real treat. It’s a mesmerizing cover really…each time it came on, I was more or less convinced this was my personal favorite from the Timeless lineup, but I’d imagine that with the amount of heart and stunning beauty they pour into this performance, that I’m not likely to be alone in this assessment. “Verdi Cries” is gorgeous, sweet, sincere, emotionally powerful and equally soul-soothing…they did an incredible job.
The playfulness and theatrical sound that comes through “Havana” is another cut I can’t imagine anyone would turn off. Not only is it familiar to many people out there to begin with, and kind of always comes along with its own unique party vibes – even here in flute-driven form – but you’ll also have a chance to really hear the musicianship as cleanly as you ever will on Timeless and how exceptional these players are. Franzetti might very well stand out the most in her part on “Havana” – especially to those out there familiar with the intricacies of piano-playing, timing & structure & whatnot…stuff that’s far over my head in terms of the technical details, but complexity and creativity I can certainly hear & appreciate. The way Allison plays this song shines a spotlight on her Grammy-nominated skillset – and you’ll find it’s not so much in the actual notes & tones, but the physical way these notes & tones are actually played – know what I mean? She’s got the kind of stuff you just can’t teach, and puts in a remarkable performance on “Havana” that’s guaranteed to get the nod of approval from the musicians out there.
Tracks like Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind” come out sounding spectacular. Part of it is certainly song recognition at work here – this is indeed a Timeless tune that’s been covered at length by many artists out there – but there’s also a reason as to why that is. Like all the best of the best, when it comes to great songwriting, music has the ability to translate from genre to genre and style to style with even more ease than you’d expect…which ultimately speaks to the strength of its connection. A shining example of this trio of players at their most welcoming & inviting, “If You Could Read My Mind” will likely go down as one of the easier-to-absorb tunes on this record with its ever-present, heartfelt melody and enticing energy in the music. You’ll find no objections from me here…it’s passionate, well-played, perfectly produced…there are simply no complaints to be made, just the objective truth in that some people out there will dig the sound of these songs being covered in flute form and that those that for some reason don’t, are just wrong. I’m not saying this as a certain fact, I just know it to be true.
Believe it or not…I’d have to look this up for sure…but I believe this is the second time within a month that I’ve encountered some use or variation on Barbara Streisand’s “The Way We Were.” If my memory serves me correctly, I think the last time was actually in a rap song…and here now, of course we’ve got a flute-adaptation through the gifted instrumentation of Steve and Patricia. Still bizarre though ain’t it? It’s been a while since I heard “The Way We Were” to begin with…to have it show up twice in such a short timeframe is a little strange…or IS IT? Maybe Babs is back on the rise again…maybe it’s me that’s out of touch with the recent Streisand resurgence. What I can tell ya is, if this keeps up, I might just end up with a real soft-spot for this song…I think this version by Patricia & Allison is absolutely exquisite. It’s the first of three cuts on the record that are played with just two of the three players, with Steve taking on the lead-flute duties for “Annie’s Song” to follow. While there’s no doubt that these players are make magic happen when they’re all combined into the mix – but having the additional space also led to exceptional results. I felt like Patricia knew “The Way We Were” like the back of her hand and put in one of her best performances for sure – and I think that the way Steve and Allison combined to recreate a John Denver tune into something even more beautiful & compelling than the original might even be with “Annie’s Song.” Finishing up the set-within-a-set of tunes on Timeless where they’ve stripped down to two of three players, Patricia rejoins Allison for a spirited performance of “Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl),” adding a bit more brightness, energy, and sweetness to the record as they cover this song. Listening to moments like Patricia soaring into the second-minute of “Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl),” or how she raises the stakes in “The Way We Were” past the two-minute mark were absolutely brilliant.
Here’s where the real proof is in the pudding though…and some of you might need to close your eyes in order to make this work at first…but listen to “I Want It That Way” and tell me you don’t love what they’ve done here! It’s impossible not to appreciate something like this if you ask me. I’m not gonna lie to ya folks, never have, never will – I don’t have any use for the Backstreet Boys personally…I ain’t knocking the people that love it, it’s just not my jam personally is all. But THIS…is exactly what I’m talking about – because what Steve, Patricia, and Allison have pulled off with their cover of “I Want It That Way” gives a guy like me, a way into appreciating the core of the melody in this song and a version I’d sincerely have no problem with listening to, any time. In terms of sheer adaptation, I think they’ve done a completely exceptional job here…pretty much breathtaking if you ask me – just listen to the way they transition from the depth of the melody in the beginning and into the bright sweetness of the chorus and you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. Or listen to the bridge around the 1:50 mark and the bring-back in as they ramp up towards the finale of “I Want It That Way” – the execution is strong, the melody is compelling, and in the end, they’ve made me appreciate the Backstreet Boys in ways I genuinely never thought I would. Whether or not I’ll ever be comfortable with that fact, is fully on me.
Another highlight of their adaptive abilities, is on the mega-hit “Titanium” from David Guetta & Sia – and from what I’ve read about Patricia & Steve’s music, their version has become quite the fan-favorite since they started to play it – and you’ll know why that is the minute you hear it. Arguably, it’s the most modern-day cover on the record and in many ways, the furthest removed from the classic sound of the flute in its original form – yet you’ll be fully captivated by the low-key approach that they’ve taken to “Titanium” and how it brings the spectacular beauty of the melody straight to the surface for all to hear. Fascinating really…it’s another song I found myself sitting & listening to, blissfully lost in the music & quite often not typing a single thing for spin-after-spin on repeat…I think they did an extraordinary job of making “Titanium” fully recognizable, but also really their own at the same time. Here’s where you somehow realize that the core of a melody in a song like “Titanium” actually isn’t nearly as far away from the feelings you might get in a song like “The Way We Were” as you might think – and you end up really appreciating just how many different styles & songs that Steve, Patricia, and Allison have played for us in such a remarkably cohesive way. You know what I mean? Like…you’d never put all these original tunes on a mix-tape or playlist and not feel the awkwardness as it transitioned through the various styles of sound – but here in the confines of Timeless and the combination of flutes & piano, these three exemplary musicians have found a way to make everything flow beautifully & organically.
Full disclosure – I’d be in that camp of people out there that would say “Unchained Melody” is still one of the best songs ever written, and I’ve still got time for it every time I hear it, no matter how many times I hear it – and I’d imagine that’ll always be the case. What I thought was incredible…like literally incredible about listening to this song and its flute-interpretation of the vocals…is that, anyone familiar with this classic cut knows just how massively hard the highest points of the melody would be to hit – and it’s kinda like, no matter how many times we listen to the original, we still sit on pins and needles in anticipation of that pinnacle moment, almost wondering if somehow this will be the time the vocals might crack, but of course, never do – and you still get that from this version, even without a word! If inducing that incredible feeling doesn’t speak volumes on behalf of what these three players are capable of together, I honestly don’t know what does…you can audibly hear that this wouldn’t be an easy song to play, just like you could always recognize in hearing the original “Unchained Melody” that you’d have to be downright superhuman to sing it. To me, that’s tremendously impressive…beyond impressive…like I know I tend to write a lot, but I’m honestly lost for words when it comes to this version – it’s gorgeous, preserves that dreaminess & epicness of the original, and its ever-comforting melody is a true highlight that’s sure to please the masses out there…everyone has time for this Timeless tune.
“American Tune” was probably the song I was least familiar with…unlike “Verdi Cries” earlier on where I was fairly sure I’d at least heard it before, I’m not so sure I’d ever listened to this cut towards the end of the album prior to this version by Steve and Patricia. Like “Verdi Cries” however, I found that knowing the original less by comparison to the rest really allowed me to absorb and appreciate the musicianship itself, and the way that Steve, Patricia, and Allison continually combine forces to generate the sincerity & emotion into the melodies they’ve been playing throughout this record. For many people out there, it’ll be the opposite effect – it’s Simon & Garfunkel…I mean c’mon, that’s something I should have immediately recognized…but for others listening, the recognition will be instantaneous. However you hear it, whether it’s brand-new to ya, or whether it’s a song you know & love – the quaint pleasantness of “American Tune” definitely feels designed to deliver comfort to your soul and calm your mind. It might not quite have some of the personality & spark that some of these other songs in the set-list have by comparison…that could be a possibility perhaps, but I have no doubt that the gentle & delicate, charming & sweet sounds of “American Tune” will connect straight to the heart of a whole bunch of listeners. It also plays a pivotal role of dialing back the energy just a little bit and transitioning the sound of the record perfectly to set up the final cut & end this album with a decisive conclusion you can hear.
Steve and Patricia finish their album with Allison on what’s arguably the most truly ‘Timeless’ song on the record…the infamous “Hallelujah.” There’s nothing not to love about this version…right from its very beginning, they had me completely captivated – and considering the thousands of times I’ve heard this song in hundreds of variations, I think they deserve an extra shout-out for standing-out in their version of “Hallelujah” as brightly as they do. For real – think of that for a moment, and recognize what an achievement it truly is – you know how many times YOU have heard “Hallelujah” as well…for any version to still find a way to retain our full attention at this point is actually quite a tall order for any artist or band out there. Yet here we are, and Steve, Patricia, and Allison fully embrace its beauty & triumphant spirit to glean its maximum potential, and deliver a “Hallelujah” that’ll make you wanna stand up and cheer. I love that they kept it chilled-out and mesmerizing for over a minute, and took their time to let the melody consume us, before raising those stakes even higher along the way as “Hallelujah” soars into its middle and reaches its epic finale…I mean, it’s textbook “Hallelujah” in many ways in that respect, but it’s the essential structure this song requires to deliver the spine-tingling feeling we’re looking for that comes along with it. Structurally, it might stick fairly close to the script of what makes it fantastic to begin with – but rightly so when deal with such a revered classic as this – and sound/style-wise, you know full-well by this point in the album that you’ll get one last tune played with tremendous passion, skill, and heart on display when it comes to what these three are capable of. They have put themselves successfully into each and every one of these songs through their impressive musicianship, and a clear investment of their own interest & efforts to create something that can be universally enjoyed by all – and I think by the closing notes of “Hallelujah,” that there shouldn’t be a single doubt from anyone listening that they completely achieved what they set out to accomplish.
Get some musical culture in ya! Find the new album Timeless by Steve Markoff & Patricia Lazzara, featuring Allison Brewster Franzetti, right here at Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/album/24hc9Jx1IjgqX4UiEQf7R2
Find out more about Steve & Patricia at their main website here: https://www.lazzarkoff.com