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August 22, 2014

A Laura Nyro Tribute Album

By Allen Morrison

A Laura Nyro Tribute Album
© Everett Collection Historical / Alamy

Despite her inimitable voice and phrasing, Laura Nyro is better known as the writer of other people’s hits (e.g., “Wedding Bell Blues” by the 5th Dimension, “Stoney End” by Barbra Streisand). The greatest pop experimenters of the 1970s—including Joni Mitchell, Donald Fagen and Elton John—have acknowledged her influence. As a performer, however, she remained relatively obscure, never achieving a Top 40 single or gold album and drawing only a small but fervent cult following before her life was cut short by cancer in 1997 at age 49.

The music world is finally repaying its long-overdue debt with the release of Map to the Treasure—Laura Nyro Reimagined (September 9). It’s a labor of love by two Grammy winners, pianist-composer Billy Childs and Larry Klein, who once talked with Nyro about producing what would have been her last album. The guest list includes singers Esperanza Spalding, Rickie Lee Jones and Lisa Fischer (of 20 Feet from Stardom fame) and musicians Yo-Yo Ma, Wayne Shorter and Chris Botti.

Nyro’s body of work is deeper and darker than her upbeat hits (for others) might indicate. That’s especially evident in the album’s closer, Alison Krauss’s haunting minor-key, country-blues interpretation of “And When I Die.” “We conceived the new version with Alison in mind,” Klein says, “praying that she would do it.” Prayers answered.