Angel In The Dark

Laura Nyro

Rounder Records, 2001

http://www.lauranyro.com

REVIEW BY: Duke Egbert

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 08/31/2001

It's always awkward to review the work of a deceased artist. One does, indeed, hate to speak ill of the dead, and Laura Nyro's death was particularly tragic, a painful and drawn out case of ovarian cancer. Angel In The Dark contains her final recordings, the last of which were recorded in the middle of her chemotherapy sessions in 1995.

So who was Laura Nyro? There is, in my opinion, a class of artist that we all know; the artist who will never receive much fame but who will be cheerfully ripped off for years to come. In her career, Nyro composed multiple hits for other artists, including Blood Sweat & Tears' "And When I Die", the Fifth Dimension's "Wedding Bell Blues" and "Stoned Soul Picnic", Three Dog Night's "Eli's Coming", and Barbara Streisand's "Stoney End". Her white soul singer sound influenced everyone from Joni Mitchell to Teena Marie, and her talent led David Geffen to quit his job and become her manager in 1967. She also recorded CDs of her own, ranging from 1966's my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 More Than A New Discovery to Angel In The Dark, her final legacy.

All poetry aside, it's not too shabby, either. The CD is a pastiche of tracks; half Nyro's own songs, half the songs that she grew up singing in New York with street-corner harmony groups. While thematically Angel is uneven, the heart in it cannot be denied. Before her illness, this CD was planned as a "love letter" to Nyro's favorite songs, ranging from Burt Bacharach to George Gershwin to Carole King, and much of that still remains. Nyro covers "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?", "Ooh Baby Baby", "Embraceable You", and "Walk On By" with her supple, graceful voice, moving from familiar melody to familiar melody with ease. Of the covers, the best by far is her take on the Delfonics' "La La Means I Love You". I really dislike this song in its original version, but Nyro's stripped-down and passionate vocals turn it into something special.

The original songs are a more uneven bunch. "Triple Goddess Twilight", "Sweet Dream Fade", and "Don't Hurt Child" are marvelous. The title track, however, shows some strain, as if Nyro was pushing herself and indeed, she was, as it dates from that last recording session in 1995. (Interestingly enough, "Sweet Dream Fade" is from the same session, and shows no such strain.) "Gardenia Talk" has a spoken line in the chorus that I found jarring. "Animal Grace" is well performed, but the lyrics are a touch awkward; frankly, I wish she had had more time to polish them, but time was running out.

Nyro's death in 1997 marked the end of an enigmatic career. Never quite mainstream enough for the commercial success found by contemporaries like Joni Mitchell and Rickie Lee Jones, she spent most of her life writing commercial songs for other people and recording her own music for herself and a few fans. Angel In The Dark was her final statement before silence, and despite a few uneven moments it's more than worth it.

Rating: B+

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© 2001 Duke Egbert and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Rounder Records, and is used for informational purposes only.