POP MUSIC / The unsung song blues: Laura Nyro has grown up, 'kinda mellowed' and is gearing up for a come-back, she tells Rob Steen

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The Independent Online
My wife kept reminding me: 'Whatever you do, don't mention you named our daughter after her.' Too creepy. What about the dispassionate dignity of the journalist? Stuff dispassionate dignity.

The Laura adorers of this world are a hardy breed, resistant to peccadilloes such as, well, her apparent aversion to making music. After all, notwithstanding one album of original material and one oldies-oriented in-concert effort, January's scheduled arrival of Walk the Dog, Light the Light will be the Bronx Bronte's first official British release since 1979.

Twenty-five years ago you couldn't move for Laura Nyro product. At 22 she had seen no fewer than eight of her songs venture deep into Billboard chart land, courtesy of interpreters as diverse as Blood, Sweat and Tears and Barbra Streisand. Aretha had covered her, even Sinatra. There had been five fine albums too, daringly laced together by strands of jazz, r'n'b and gospel, embroidered by rich, toe-tapping tunes, Songs for Swinging Poets.

The voice, too, was astonishing, blacker and more soulful than any 'Italian-Catholic-cum-Euro- pean Jewish' teenager had a reasonable right to own. Here, indubitably, was the hippest of the hippy chicks.

Nowadays, alas, Laura Nyro is merely a well-kept secret. Too well-kept. Even the chap from the CBS publicity department mispronounces her surname as 'Nero'. But her son is 13, she's given up smoking and the pecking order is beginning to change again.

The speaking voice, first-grade New-York-semi- stoned-lib-eral, all 'erb' tea and consciousness-raising, sounds a mite offended at the perceived slight. 'The life of an artist stretches over a whole lifetime,' its owner asserts, gently. 'It just takes its course. I do have a little more freedom these days, but I don't want to give the impression that I had a child and just stopped working altogether. It's just . . . things kinda mellowed.'

Her time is currently divided between living in 'this tree-house in Connecticut' and working in Manhattan. They never quite took the city out of the girl. Born in the Bronx in 1947 to a piano-tuner father who also tooted a mean trumpet, Laura was pounding the family joanna 'from a very early age, five or six'. She also dabbled in guitar and doo-wopped on street corners. While attending the local High School of Music and Art, she came to the notice of a music publisher, Paul Barry, the upshot an immodestly titled debut album on Verve in 1966, More Than a New Discovery. If anything, this was an understatement. The big boys listened and five hits were plundered, notably 'And When I Die' (Blood Sweat And Tears), 'Wedding Bell Blues' (Fifth Dimension) and 'Stoney End' (La Streisand). Precocious, moi?

Ditching Manhattan for Massachusetts in the early Seventies, however, she distanced herself from a business that instilled distaste and distrust. Recorded in the wake of her mother's sudden, early death, 'Smile' (1976) was heart-rending but resolutely uncommercial. By 1979's fittingly christened 'Nested' she was a fully paid-up earth mother, as 'Mother's Spiritual' (1983) rubbed in.

Walk the Dog . . . showcases those sides of the Nyro coin. 'Alongside' takes on Curtis Mayfield's 'I'm So Proud', Phil Spector's 'Oh Yeah Maybe Baby', and 'Dedicated to the One I Love' by the somewhat less celebrated Lowman Pauling and Ralph Bass - 'the teenage primal heartbeat songs of my youth'. Native Americans, elephants, rainforests and women's rights all get an airing. There's even a ditty about PMT, 'The Descent of Luna Rose' ('a lot of people didn't realise I was joking, sadly'). Crisply produced by Gary Katz, the music ranks among the most joyous she has ever concocted. 'I definitely went for a certain kind of energy, and the little r'n'b band we used was a good marriage to my voice and material. Compared, say, with 'Smile', where I was seeking peace of mind, it does, um, sizzle a bit.'

The signs, moreover, are that the muse is cranking up again. 'It's a question of making writing the top priority in my life, which it hasn't been for so long. But once I get on a serious schedule, when I really start on a daily basis, I just get on a keyboard and the songs just . . . words and music just seem to come together at the same time. I become a songwriter again, although sometimes you have to fill in a few lines.'

I, of course, miss mine completely. After all that, I clean forget to inform Laura about our Laura. When I ring back I ask the CBS chap to pass the word on. Passionate subjectivity has its limits.

(Photograph omitted)

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