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Time and Love: The Music of Laura Nyro.

The only good thing that came out of Laura Nyro's passing in April was that her obituary--announcing that this private, almost unearthly woman was survived by a son and a longtime female companion--allowed lesbians and gays to claim another one of pop's greatest and most passionate singer-songwriters: as their own.

Although she never had a hit performing her own material and had maintained a low profile for more than 20 years, Nyro was extraordinarily influential--both in the mainstream (the Fifth Dimension, Three Dog Night, and Babs Streisand, among others, scored with such Nyro standards as "Stoned Soul Picnic," "Wedding Bell Blues," and "Stoney End") and in the women's music movement, where her soulful introspection helped a whole generation of female musicians find their own voices. Nearly everyone knows her songs, but Nyro also attracted one of pop's first "cult"--largely lesbian and gay--audiences, one that's been profoundly touched by her particular brand of secular spirituality, her well-deep devotion to personal truth, and her love of a good, unfettered melody.

All this and more is celebrated in Time and Love, one of the few tribute albums that actually does its subject justice. Completed shortly before the singer died earlier this year of ovarian cancer, this collection of 14 Nyro classics newly recorded by a variety of women artists suggests the renegade's impact on her peers and heirs. Unlike the typical tribute CD, Time and Love is engaging nearly from beginning to end, and not just because the performances are uniformly strong but also because the choice of artists suits the material.

Nyro's dual status as tune-smith and cult diva is borne out by the breadth of her material. She could be both direct and obtuse, catchy and difficult, personal and political, folksy and funky, sometimes all at once. The collection celebrates that diversity, boasting an impressive gathering of stars and underground heroines. Suzanne Vega, Rosanne Cash, Holly Cole, and the Roches are just some of the singers that bring out different shades of Nyro's multihued musical personality.

Sweet Honey in the Rock produce a bluesy "And When I Die" free from grandstanding yet intense with gritty drama. Unable to pick a favorite, Jane Siberry tackles a medley of Nyro hits that's full of her casually offbeat charm. The most radical reinterpretation comes courtesy of Lisa Germano, who sings "Eli's Coming" in a shell-shocked whisper, as if so traumatized by the ex-lover of the title that she can barely get the words out.

It's a sign of a major cultural change that the most lesbian-identified musician on the collection turns in the poppiest performance. Jill Sobule confesses her admiration for the hit Fifth Dimension version of "Stoned Soul Picnic" in the liner notes, and her rendition is suitably spirited: She enjoys both the dated grooviness of the language and the timelessness of the sentiment.
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Author:Walters, Barry
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Sound Recording Review
Date:Jul 8, 1997
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