Posthumous collections always have precarious leanings. Is Jeff Buckley rolling in his grave after hearing the pasted together (though beautiful) works in progress of Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk? Does Tupac Shakur mind that his Mom’s cashing in on the grief of a dedicated fan base? Every once in a while, though, you can’t help but imagine an artist’s angel smiling down upon a respectful collection, one that offers the peace of completion, a last gift she couldn’t deliver in person because of tragic circumstance.
In this duteous vein, Rounder has released songs culled from Laura Nyro’s final recording sessions in 1994 and 1995, creating Angel In The Dark, a stunning, steady trickle of 16 more gorgeous soul-folk spirituals.
The material stems from recording sessions that took place a few years before Nyro’s death from cancer in 1997. The chanteuse had partnered with poet Eileen Silver-Lillywhite to form the Luna Mist record label after leaving Columbia. The two were to launch the label with three recordings: one of originals, an homage album with covers of the songs she grew up singing in the subway with street-corner harmony groups, and a live album capturing just Nyro with a grand piano and the women of her Harmony Group. Nyro had given the master tapes to Silver-Lillywhite and asked her to keep them safe until she found a company to release them. She wanted the music released “no matter what happens.” Silver-Lillywhite became executive producer of Angel In The Dark.
The album includes eight originals and eight covers. The originals swerve and sway with her characteristic, off-the-beaten-track, jazz-inspired chord structures and progressions. And the covers (“Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” “He Was Too Good To Me,” “Ooh Baby, Baby” included) sparkle with intimate charisma and a tongue-in-cheek wink to the artists who capitalized on covering her songs — the Fifth Dimension with “Wedding Bell Blues” and Blood, Sweat and Tears with “And When I Die.”
Rounder will release the live album, a recording of her last New York City concert at the Bottom Line, at a later date.
Throughout Nyro’s career, she remained true to artistic freedom and ingenuity, stretching beyond genre limitations, exploring the fringe of pop and inspiring countless singer-songwriters to come. To fans, she was a soul-warming voice of strength and a mysterious recluse, healing broken hearts and offering hope to the disheartened. The songs captured on Angel In The Dark follow this shining manifesto. And it doesn’t get any more legit than that.
Melissa Giannini is the Metro Times staff music writer. E-mail her at [email protected].