This ten-track budget-priced collection, excerpted and resequenced from a longer version released in Japan, presents Laura Nyro at the piano along with a female vocal trio, performing a combination of the hit songs she penned, some 1950s and '60s hits of others she loved, and some of her newer material of the early 1990s. Four rock & roll oldies, the Shirelles' "Dedicated to the One I Love," the Miracles' "Ooh Baby Baby," Dionne Warwick's "Walk On By," and the Everly Brothers' "Let It Be Me," are interrupted by three of Nyro's own oldies, "And When I Die," "Save the Country," and "Wedding Bell Blues." This abbreviated version of the set then concludes with three then-recent songs, "Light a Flame (The Animal Rights Song)," "Louise's Church," and "Woman of the World," songs that continue to seem more preachy and less personal than her earlier work.
Recorded just a few years before her tragically early death at age 49, these performances at her annual Christmas Eve concerts at New York's Bottom Line find Laura revisiting her own stunning songs as well as cover songs she held close to her heart. These riveting, spare arrangements feature only voices and piano and include To a Child; And When I Die; Save the Country; Angel in the Dark; Wedding Bell Blues; Broken Rainbow; Wind; Emmie; Let It Be Me; Ooh Baby, Baby; Dedicated to the One I Love 24 impassioned performances on 2 CDs!
This entry into the Japan-only Premium Best series highlights the recordings of composer/performer Laura Nyro. Unlike other single-CD North American compilations, this 16-track disc gives sufficient time to her tragically underappreciated post-Smile recordings. Several of these titles are not even available on CD in the States, which is perhaps correlated to the seeming lack of interest. There are actually numerous advantages to this collection – not the least of which is the artist-sensitive track list. Presumably the Premium Best series is aimed at the casual enthusiast, as the hardcore collector would either already own the contents or buy it anyway if they were a completist. By including seminal album sides such as the imperially haunting "New York Tendaberry" and "Upstairs by a Chinese Lamp," a more accurate overview of Nyro's career is presented here.
After a five-year hiatus, singer/songwriter Laura Nyro returned with Smile in 1976. On this disc, Nyro's somewhat idiosyncratic writing and performance style is decidedly subdued. In its stead is a light pop and jazz feel similar to that of Maria Muldaur's mid-'70s recordings. Supporting Nyro instrumentally is virtually a who's who of New York and Los Angeles studio stalwarts. While the prowess of folks like Will Lee (bass), brothers Randy Brecker (trumpet) and Michael Brecker (flute/sax), Hugh McCracken (guitar), and Rick Marotta (drums) certainly strengthens Nyro's already laid-back material, it likewise reduces her to sounding like a Joni Mitchell ripoff. The undeniable highlight of Smile is the maturity in the songwriting. It becomes obvious that the half-decade away has done some significant good in revealing a decidedly positive evolution in Nyro's approach to her own life. What's more is that the material on this album seems to come from a place of contentment.