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If the purpose of a tribute album is to reaffirm the singularity of its subject, Time and Love succeeds, though largely in spite of itself. Eleven singers, two vocal groups, and an instrumentalistall womenreinterpret compositions by singer-songwriter Laura Nyro. After a rocky starther startling ’66 debut album, More Than a New Discovery, passed almost unnoticed, and her appearance at the ’67 Monterey Pop Festival was jeered by rock fansNyro emerged as one of the most gifted composer-lyricists of her era, attracting a fervent cult following and supplying cover hits for the Fifth Dimension; Blood, Sweat and Tears; and Barbra Streisand. Blending gospel and R&B inflections with unconventional melodies and powerful yet enigmatic language, she produced an impressive body of work before retiring in the early ’70s, then resurfacing intermittently, with diminished effectiveness, until her death at 49 earlier this year. Compared to the passionate Nyro, the artists assembled for this tribute sound like girls playing dress-up in their mothers’ clothes. Several performances manage to convey some understanding of what Nyro was about, notably Jonatha Brooke’s thoughtful, intimate “He’s a Runner,” Patty Larkin’s soulful “Poverty Train,” Beth Nielsen Chapman’s no-nonsense “Stoney End,” and the Roches’ sprightly “Wedding Bell Blues,” an oasis of fun in an otherwise humorless landscape. The low points include Suzanne Vega’s emotionally and tonally flat “Buy and Sell,” Jane Siberry’s pretentious sound collage of four Nyro song hooks, Lisa Germano’s deadpan, smokefree “Eli’s Comin’,” and Holly Cole’s typically obtuse, heavy-handed “Sweet Blindness.” Sweet Honey in the Rock (“And When I Die”) and lounge-rap diva Dana Bryant (“Woman’s Blues”) pay Nyro the dubious compliment of altogether ignoring her melodies, and the customarily vibrant Phoebe Snow is
off form in a lackluster version of the title song. If you’re interested in Nyro’s music, go straight to the source
Sony Legacy’s recently issued Stoned Soul Picnic, a two-disc retrospective
of her work.Joel E. Siegel