On the cusp
running_man | Chesterfield Twp., MI | 11/22/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I consider 'Season of Lights', labeled here as the "complete version" (I doubt that 70 minutes of songs gleaned from at least four seperate performances constitute the complete setlist Laura Nyro typically performed on this 1976 tour, but at least it's expanded beyond the original ten tracks first offered on vinyl in 1977), to represent the artist just before her virtuosity peaked in 1978 with the release of 'Nested'. 'Season of Lights' embodies Laura's smashing, early career compositions, as well as tracks from her first comeback album, 'Smile', but is too early to capture her tour of duty through motherhood explored in 'Nested' and 'Mother's Spiritual', as well as the evolution of her philosophical and political views. Sadly, live performances from those mid-career masterpieces are sorely lacking from Laura's current catalog.
There are an abundance of albums featuring Laura Nyro live in a solo context, but only 'Season of Lights' provides full instrumental backing for her compositions. Nevertheless, three solo piano tracks are scattered among the sixteen offerings here, 'When I Was a Freeport and You Were the Main Drag' (proclaiming "I'm a woman, and this is my due time" long before Helen Reddy got around to being "woman"), the captivating 'Emmie' (a tribute to Laura's lyrical prowess, comparing her subject to "a natural snow... a cameo... and an unstudied sea"), and 'Midnite Blue', understated in its role as the encore. The more intriguing offerings, however, find Laura and her band cranked up in high gear, such as on the vibrant opener, 'Money', riding high on John Tropea's lead guitar runs, yet still bursting with lyrical jewels such as "my struggle hurt but it turned me on, when my revolution came, the chain was gone" ...oh, Yeah! The engaging melody of 'Captain St. Lucifer' combines with perplexing lyics, such as "a tiger from a conga-line chase" (hmmmm....), while a superb guitar and percussion coda graces 'Timer', and alludes to Laura's struggle with a higher diety ("The Master of Time"), at one point abruptly announcing, "God is a jigsaw". Other philosophical and political musings adorn the classic 'And When I Die', 'The Morning News' (subtly stating, "His wife helped him for free"), and even 'The Cat-Song', where Laura comes as close as she ever will to a novelty song, yet still taking swings and shots at war and "whitewashing your day away".
Other tracks find Nyro creating ethereal mood pieces ('Upstairs By a Chinese Lamp', featuring Jeanie Fineberg's fine flute, and 'Sweet Lovin' Baby', with its shades of 'Sweet Blindness', featuring Ellen Seeling's tuneful trumpet), sultry and suggestive numbers like 'The Confession' (asking her baby to take "a super ride on my love thing"), faithful renditions of classics such as 'Sweet Blindness', and an excursion into the curious and mysterious with the mid-set instrumental 'Mars'. More diversity is delivered with 'I Am the Blues', a bluesy ballad that gives way to a jazzy milieu, taking flight with high soaring vocals on lyrics such as "fly through the sky like superfly". Rounding out the set is the light and lilting 'Smile', also embedded with Laura's philosphizing ("I'm a non-believer, but I believe in your smile").
Laura Nyro is one of those few performers graced with mesmerizing vocal talent, and a gift for combining matchless melodies with thoughtful lyrics. While I don't share all of Laura's liberal notions, it's difficult not to appreciate her perspectives when they are cloaked in confines that are at times complex, at times simplistic, at all times wonderous and beautiful. Her lack of commercial success (aside from her abundant songwriting credits), ironically, seems to add to her aura as a true, unsullied artist. While Laura's solo piano endeavors on albums such as 'The Loom's Desire' and 'Live In Japan' certainly claim a valued place in her catalog of recordings, only 'Season of Lights' allows us to hear Laura live, in a full-throttle, fully bloomed state. I believe it is an essential component of any well-rounded musical collection."
A superb documentation of Laura live
mianfei | 08/26/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"When "Season of Lights", Laura Nyro's first live album, came out, the "punk revolution" and the resulting tightening of commercial radio playlists made it a tough time for expressive, feminine sucians like her. Her 1976 album Smile had reached number 60 on the Billboard chart, but "Season of Lights" only reached number 137 despite showing clearly that Laura was back as a musical force when she wanted to be.
Indeed, the performances on "Season of Lights" are in general better than those on Smile. Most especially clear is that Laura shows much greater focus than on most parts of that album and consequently her songs - though in a much different style from albums like Eli and Tendaberry. Most noteworthy are the versions of "Sweet Blindness" and "Captain Saint Lucifer" that amount to complete reworks from the original songs but the way in which Laura allows her backing band to jam out for several minutes on the latter song is really surprising as well as quite truly beautiful. On "The Confession", she sings as nearly like an angel as one has ever known her too and her wonderful vocal yet again transforms the song completely from its original album version to something, indeed, that we never expected from her. Not only that, but the beauty of the music more than matches the superb vocal.
Both "I Am The Blues" and "Money" are treated to superb performances that are distinctly more passionate than their studio versions. In the case of "Money", that is really fitting given the song's message, and it was only justice that Nyro included the song on her self-chosen "Stoned Soul Picnic" compilation just before she died - despite never in her post-1980 concert repetoire having played anything from "Smile". The only unique track, "The Morning News", is a very short but beautifully written story of social decay and business corruption that manages almost to show Laura was not completely out of touch with the message of the "punk revolution" even if her music was exactly its opposite in many ways. On the realtively well-known renditions of "Sweet Loving Baby" and "The Cat Song", Nyro shows a funny side quite at odds with her image as a private, serious figure, and "And When I Die" is also very impressive.
All in all, "Season of Lights" stands as the best album of Laura's comeback era with numerous exquisite performances that should not be missed."
Peter Baklava | Charles City, Iowa | 04/12/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Laura Nyro had the fortune (or misfortune) of continually being referred to as the musical cousin, or bookend figure, to Joni Mitchell. This was not fair to either musician.
But as this album demonstrates, and as any fan of Laura's is aware, Laura took a backseat to no one.
Laura had some rough times as a solo performer, in places like the Monterey Festival... but as a mature artist with a sympathetic band, she really sparkled. Few live albums can deliver the warmth and intimacy that this one provides.
The charms of "Season of Lights" are considerable...matchless in some respects. As a nice overview of a decade of Laura's work (1966-76) it reaffirms the classic greatness of her early songs, like "And When I Die", "Sweet Blindness", and "Emmie", while offering more accessible versions of songs from the more difficult and personal albums that followed.
The presence here of Richard Davis--one of the giants of acoustic jazz bass-- along with Mike Mainieri (vibes) and John Tropea (guitar), both from the group Steps Ahead, attests to the jazz cred that Laura carried, and the fact that her songs were great vehicles for a jazzy accompaniment.
Laura was just a very soulful person, writer, and performer. The songs all have a spiritual, cleansing quality. There is a plenitude of color and mood here, fleshed-out with with seamless, funky jazz arrangements. Plus, with the restored edits and bonus tracks, one can finally hear how the band was allowed to stretch out in extended improvisations.
The band was a mixture of races, sexes, veterans and newcomers that only Laura could have put together.
In summation, this is a desert island disc for me... no questions asked."