After a five-year hiatus, singer/songwriter Laura Nyro returned with Smile in 1976. On this disc, Nyro's somewhat idiosyncratic writing and performance style is decidedly subdued. In its stead is a light pop and jazz feel similar to that of Maria Muldaur's mid-'70s recordings. Supporting Nyro instrumentally is virtually a who's who of New York and Los Angeles studio stalwarts. While the prowess of folks likeWill Lee (bass), brothers Randy Brecker (trumpet) and Michael Brecker (flute/sax), Hugh McCracken(guitar), and Rick Marotta (drums) certainly strengthens Nyro's already laid-back material, it likewise reduces her to sounding like a Joni Mitchell ripoff. The undeniable highlight of Smile is the maturity in the songwriting. It becomes obvious that the half-decade away has done some significant good in revealing a decidedly positive evolution in Nyro's approach to her own life. What's more is that the material on this album seems to come from a place of contentment. The influence of her work with the female soul vocal trio LaBelle on Gonna Take a Miracle -- prior to her mini-retirement -- also seems to be a source of inspiration throughout this disc. The high and tight vocal harmonies -- all of which are credited to Nyro -- are wholly rewarding and hark back to her R&B-induced "Wedding Bell Blues" and "Stoned Soul Picnic." This is most evident on the opening track, "Sexy Mama" (penned by Harry Ray, Joe Robinson, and Al Goodman), which was also a hit for the R&B vocal group the Moments. The intimate nature of "I Am the Blues" and "Midnite Blue" are reminiscent of older Nyro favorites such as "Emmie" and "Captain St. Lucifer." In all, Smile is much like a musical letter from an old acquaintance and casts a direct light onto the next phase in Laura Nyro's recording career. AMG.
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