Laura Nyro,
The Loom's Desire
(Rounder, 2002)

For years, Laura Nyro performed Christmas Eve concerts in her hometown of New York City. Her final such show would be in 1994; by December 1995, she was fighting the ovarian cancer that ultimately would take her life in April 1997. The two-CD set The Loom's Desire documents her final two Christmas gigs recorded live at New York's famous Bottom Line. It's an intimate collection, mostly relying on Nyro's solo voice and piano, occasionally accompanied by a harmony group of women's backing vocals. While they mostly represent her later compositions, Nyro also relies on older material of her own and covers of "golden oldies."

The 1993 disc opens with two of those songs, "Oh Yeah, Maybe Baby" and "Dedicated to the One I Love," the latter introduced as a gift for the audience. Her a cappella cover of "Wind" brings out the harmony group with the strength of a rock spiritual. Those six women accompany Nyro and her piano on "Wedding Bell Blues" in 1993. Only one of two songs to be featured in both concerts, the 1994 version cuts back the harmony singers to three, and the song is performed as the latter half of a medley with "Blowin' Away."

Despite the duplication of "Wedding Bell Blues," newer original compositions tend to dominate the shows. Nyro had released a new CD, Walk the Dog & Light the Light, in 1993, so it's not a surprise she chose to promote it. The title track, "Lite a Flame (The Animal Rights Song)," "Art of Love," "A Woman of the World," "Louise's Church," "To a Child," "The Descent of Luna Rose" and "Broken Rainbow" all appear one year or the other. (Add in the cover songs from that album, and the entire disc is available via these Bottom Line shows.) By 1994, songs that would appear on disc only later on her posthumously released album Angel in the Dark, including that title track and "Gardenia Talk," are debuted.

Although The Loom's Desire is lacking in older songs, "And When I Die" brought out applause at the Bottom Line when Nyro launched into it. Her voice sounds as clear and resonant as it did when she first recorded it in 1966; the only difference, and it is a positive one, is the maturity both her voice and the song have gained over the years. "And When I Die" was a truly precocious song for the then teenage Nyro to have written; the 1993 version sounds even more soulful, if that's possible. "Save the Country," from the 1994 show, introduced merely with "I wrote this song many moons ago," becomes more laidback and possibly more meaningful with merely Nyro's voice, her three backing singers and her customary piano. Wisdom doesn't always come with age, but it certainly accompanies Nyro's arrangements of her older material during these concerts.

This album had been planned since the concerts were performed. Executive producer Eileen Silver-Lillywhite comments in the CD booklet that together she and Nyro determined the CD's name, "a phrase from 'Emmie,' Laura's signature song." "Emily, I swear you were born a weaver's lover, born for the loom's desire," Nyro sings in only the second song to appear on both discs. Weaving a loom of nostalgia and warmth, The Loom's Desire may not be the best introduction for brand-new fans. More recent compilations might hook them onto Nyro's sound. But for her fans, this live collection is a winner.

[ by Ellen Rawson ]
Rambles: 21 September 2002

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