The first and only live album recorded during her relatively
brief lifetime, Laura Nyro’s Season Of
Lights was part of a stylistic transition that shifted her sound from
solitary to celebratory. Nyro’s early
albums helped established her as one of the most reliable songwriters of the
late ‘60s and early ‘70s, having penned such hits as “Wedding Bell Blues,”
“Stoney End,” “Eli’s Coming” and “And When I Die” for the Fifth Dimension,
Barbara Streisand, Three Dog Night, and Blood Sweat and Tears,
respectively. Her own takes on those
compositions proved more intimate and affecting, rendered as stripped down,
confessional ballads that etched her reputation as one of the most thoughtful
artists of that era.
In 1975, Nyro released Smile,
an album that initialed a shift in her stance.
It eschewed her earlier pensive approach for more effusive arrangements
which veered towards jazz and pop, retracing a route similar to that taken by
Joni Mitchell and Carole King before her.
It was only natural, then, that when she opted to tour in order to tout
that album on the road, she’d surround herself with musicians that could help
her realize the more elaborate arrangements.
Drummer Andy Newmark, guitarist John Tropea, vibes player Michael
Mainieri and bassist Richard Davis were at the helm of this impressive
ensemble, providing an effective embellishment to Seasons Of Lights, the live album that resulted from that tour.
While its original 1977 release provided several memorable
moments, it also excised several songs and some extended musical passages when
the original idea of a double disc was scrapped in favor of issuing it as a
single album. The fledgling Iconoclassic
label revisits these recordings, adding six tracks (“Sweet Lovin’ Baby,” “The
Morning News,” “I Am The Blues,” “Smile,” “Mars” and “Timer”) and the
instrumental outflow from two others, “Captain St. Lucifer” and “The Cat Song.”
The result is a more complete
encapsulation of Nyro’s performance prowess, an album that rivals Mitchell’s
stunning Miles of Aisles in terms of
its jazz/rock synthesis. The easy,
breezy groove of “And When I Die,” “When I Was a Freeport and You Were the Main Drag,” “Smile”
and “Sweet Blindness” transforms these tracks with an effusive exuberance only
hinted at in their original renditions. “Who? Who am I? I am the blues,” she
proclaims on the aforementioned song of the same name. Ironically, that may be the only
disingenuous moment on the entire LP.
Nested emerged as a natural successor when it first appeared a year later, a set of
songs that further emphasized Nyro’s reliance on a more soulful and spiritual
stance. Lush and sensual, and boasting
its own superb cast of supporting players (John Sebastian and Felix Cavaliere,
among them), it proved an impressive mesh of imagery and expression, its songs’
subjects focused on her romantic relationships, pending motherhood and a
worldly embrace. Still, despite the album’s rich, sensual
sound, Nyro’s inward gaze blunted its overall appeal. Best described as a set of multi-textured mood
music, its melodies were rather diffuse given its dearth of reliable refrains. Listening to this reissue does little to
dissuade that notion, especially given the fact that the new edition isn’t
bolstered by any bonus material.
Sadly, Nyro died in 1997 from ovarian cancer, the same
disease that claimed her mother. Hopefully,
then, these two albums will help expose her artistry for those who may be unawares,
and bring back fond memories for the many fans she left behind.
Tracks: “Mr. Blue (The Song of Communications),” “And When I Die,”
“Captain St. Lucifer” LEE ZIMMERMAN