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CD Review: Christine Spero's "Spero Plays Nyro" 

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Why and how dare she devote an entire album to songs by Laura Nyro when we can just listen to the originals on Spotify? I'll tell you why. Because Christine Spero fully inhabits these songs, uncovers hidden nuances, and with her stunning ensemble—including drummer Peter O'Brien, bassist Scott Petito, saxophonist Elliot Spero, and Christine's own magic hands on the ivories—she makes you hear these terrific old songs in new ways. And frankly, Nyro—one of the great post-Brill Building blue-eyed pop-soul songwriters—wasn't always her own best interpreter, but more a supplier of pop hits for artists ranging from Three Dog Night to Barbara Streisand to Blood, Sweat & Tears to the Fifth Dimension. (And, perhaps ironically, her own greatest hit recording was a cover of Carole King's "Up on the Roof.")

What you wind up with here are new renditions by a woman with a rich, jazzy voice in funky arrangements that sometimes sound like Steely Dan fronted by a woman covering Nyro. While Spero acknowledges the hitmaker side of Nyro with renditions of "Stoned Soul Picnic" and "And When I Die," she mostly eschews obvious hits like "Wedding Bell Blues" and "Stoney End" in favor of deeper catalog selections such as "Broken Rainbow" and "You Don't Love Me When I Cry." A welcome reminder of the greatness of a sometimes overlooked musical genius.

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