The Laura Nyro Project
Mark Winkler, with "The Laura Nyro Project," pays homage to a stellar songwriter of the late 60s, and does so quite nicely. Winkler, a West Coast swinger and Nyro, a New York hipster, make a strange combo at first thought, but this listener was pleasantly surprised on most counts with the eleven tracks covered on the album.
The late Ms. Nyro, a recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame-inductee, was the songwriter and performer of hits such as The 5th Dimension’s "Wedding Bell Blues," "Stoned Soul Picnic," and "Save The Country;" Three Dog Night’s "Eli’s Coming;" and "Stoney End," which was covered by Diana Ross, Barbra Streisand, and Linda Ronstadt (with the Stone Poneys). With tunes like these, the job of selecting which ones to cover must have been tasking for Winkler.
Mark Winkler takes Nyro’s jazz, folk, and rule-breaking style and adds his own elegance. Most of the selections on this collection were arranged by Winkler’s pianist Eli Brueggemann. "And When I Die" is a strong opener and is propelled by Dan Lutz’s bass; Lutz has a strong presence on all the ensemble pieces. "Sweet Blindness" follows the same formula as the first piece, and is heightened by Bob Sheppard’s tenor saxophone, Nolan Shaheed’s trumpet, and The Mills Brothers’ swinging vocals.
"Stone Soul Picnic" is changed into a light stroll and works well for Winkler’s voice, while Pat Kelly’s guitar adds a nice touch. This was the song this listener was looking forward to the most, but since the original and The Fifth Dimensions’s versions are so groovy, no other version can come close.
"California Shoeshine Boy" comes through as a gospel, rhythm and blues combination, and is a standout on this collection. "Save The Country" and "Billy’s Blues" close the album, and on these, Winkler duets with pianist Eric Reed. Reed adds soul to the tunes, and Winkler does his best singing on these two.
Mark Winkler’s "The Laura Nyro Project" grows on the listener with each play and does a terrific job at paying tribute to a superb songwriter whose talent contributed to many others artists’ success.
"The Laura Nyro Project"
by Mark Winkler