The Return of Laura Nyro

Nested, Season of Lights, Laura Nyro in Concert, and Mother's Spiritual (Iconoclassic)
Laura Nyro

By Martin Z. Kasdan, Jr.

It is hard to measure the impact of Laura Nyro on contemporary music. Many came to her works in the 1960s through cover versions of songs such as "Eli's Comin'" (Three Dog Night), "And When I Die" (Blood, Sweat & Tears), and "Stoned Soul Picnic," "Sweet Blindness," and "Wedding Bell Blues," all by the Fifth Dimension. Those who sought out Nyro's original albums found versions that were stunningly soulful and jazzy, by a young artist who embodied the visceral urban rhythms of New York City.

Over the past decade, Laura Nyro's remarkable first four albums -- More Than a New Discovery, a/k/a The First Songs, Eli and the Thirteenth Confession, New York Tendaberry, and Christmas and the Beads of Sweat -- have all been reissued, together with other recordings and previously unissued concert material.

It was not until 2008, however, that some of her later records for Columbia began to surface on CD in the United States. Beginning with 1978's Nested, Iconoclassic has brought out three of her later works for the label, including 1977's Season of Lights and Nyro's only studio album from the 1980s, Mother's Spiritual.

In each case, the remastering is crisp and clear; there is one bonus cut on Mother's Spiritual, a live version (unknown date and venue) of that record's "Man in the Moon." There is no added material on Nested. Season of Lights is the real find here, with seven previously unissued songs and unedited versions of two others.

The repertoire ranges from strong versions of "And When I Die" and "Sweet Blindness" to later material such as the then-recent "I Am the Blues" and others. She is supported by a fine band, including jazz cats Mike Mainieri on vibes, Richard Davis on bass and John Tropea on guitar. This disc serves as an excellent sampling of Nyro's material from her first decade of recording.

Nested and Mother's Spiritual serve as bookends, with the former dealing in large part with her pregnancy and the latter her experiences as a mother. On both, her voice remains a righteous presence, and her piano playing is excellent. Her lyrics remain poetic, while her concerns refocus from the nitty gritty of Manhattan and the Bronx to the more pastoral settings and Earth Mother imagery she found residing in Danbury, Connecticut.

Laura Nyro passed away from ovarian cancer at age 49 in 1997. These recordings supplement her earlier classics and show her development as both an artist and a woman.

More info awaits at iconclassicrecords.com.