Laura Nyro Stephen Holden - Essay

Stephen Holden

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Season of Lights is a live retrospective that encompasses the range of Laura Nyro's career, from the ornate pop soul of her early records to the blander jazz pop introduced on Smile. Originally, Nyro imprinted the first style with unprecedented volatility; its culmination, Eli and the Thirteenth Confession, had the feel, if not the form, of a song cycle. Season of Lights recasts four of Eli's songs in simpler, rhythmically straightforward settings. The burning intensity that drove "Timer," "Emmie," "The Confession" and "Sweet Blindness" has been replaced by a cool, detached stance. Although Nyro's voice retains its throbbing edge, her furious urgency has all but disappeared. As Nyro looks back on these songs, they emerge as exotic, epigrammatic visions from a genuine pop original—one who may have trusted her emotions more completely than any other Sixties singer/songwriter.

But with the attenuation of Nyro's full-scale emotionalism, the impact of her art has diminished. Though she now exhibits more of the "discipline" she was criticized for lacking on Eli, discipline is no substitute for passion. "Money" and "The Cat-Song" neatly integrate Nyro's poeticized street song into a jazz-pop idiom. They are well made, but lack the magic of the best early songs, which seemed to be torn right out of the moment. Assertions of Nyro's unworldliness and of her hard-won privacy, they are cryptic lessons in survival from one whose art once was a desperate act of survival.

Stephen Holden, "Records: 'Season of Lights'," in Rolling Stone (by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. © 1977; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Issue 245, August 11, 1977, p. 69.