Music Reviews

Laura Nyro

Angel in the Dark


Heavy stuff. Turns out that this is the final recorded music of Laura Nyro. Just as heavy is the unmistakable timelessness around this record. First few listens, I hadn•t even cracked the liner notes, and I figured that Angel in the Dark was outtakes from classic 1970s sessions, such is the air of vitality and playfulness around these songs. But no, here she is in fucking fine 1990s form tackling new material in a minimum of takes, as well as chestnuts from Bacharach, Gershwin, and Robinson. The choice of well-worn and familiar cover material reminds me of the stories of how, in his final days, Frank Zappa listened incessantly to 45s of classic doo-wop and cried at the beauty of it all. Maybe Nyro, as well, was trying to retreat to a familiar and purer place in her music. Looks like she may have succeeded.

There•s a tendency, let•s call it the Closer Syndrome, to scrutinize records that surface after an artist•s death for something, some extra meaning, portents, perhaps even words from beyond the grave. That•s a damaging habit, and in the end cheapens both the music and the intimacy of the artist-audience interactions, as you get all these people pressing •play• in the vain hope of a death-thrill séance. Records like Angel in the Dark, Closer, and Everything Must Go should be thought of as comforting postcards instead of chilling deathbed confessions.

And I couldn•t think of a happier sendoff. First off, its immaculately recorded, I mean immaculate in terms of ambience and atmosphere, where her voice is pushed to the fore with a minimum of studio fuckery. Accompaniment is sparse, often limited to just her piano and harmony backup singers. And the voice, damn, the voice is warm and untroubled, hitting every note, lingering and rising up again. Man, she even got me to like that damn •Ooh, Baby, Baby• song, and that•s a feat. Irreplaceable. Remember her like this.

Rounder Records, One Camp Street, Cambridge, MA 02140;

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