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CD REVIEW Mark Winkler's 'The Laura Nyro Project'
by Richard Knight, Jr., for Windy City Times

The late bisexual singer/songwriter Laura Nyro is at last starting to get her due over 15 years after her untimely death in 1997. Nyro, the most idiosyncratic of the crop of singer/songwriters to burst onto the scene in the late '60s (personally and artistically), was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last year; a documentary on her life and career is finally underway; and her intricate songs—hybrids of Broadway, rock, soul, doo-wop and jazz—are once again increasingly being recorded by an array of performers.

Mark Winkler, the out singer/songwriter whose silky smooth jazz baritone has graced a myriad of interesting albums, has now turned his lifelong passion for Nyro's songs into a scintillating jazz-infused recording—dubbed The Laura Nyro Project—that is both a worthy tribute to the eclectic Nyro and a lovely showcase for Winkler's incomparable vocal stylings. Working with pianist-arranger Eli Brueggemann on the majority of the selections and Rich Eames on the balance, Winkler, expertly backed by these pianists and a bevy of jazz sidemen, weaves a contemporary cocktail-lounge sound—with some softly driving funk here, some light gospel there—that envelops the listener in its warm, playful embrace. The ballads especially are served well by the tasteful yet creative arrangements over which Winkler's emotive voice soars. ("Billy's Blues" is a highlight.)

The line-up includes several of Nyro's most renowned compositions—"And When I Die," "Stoned Soul Picnic," "Time & Love" and "Save the Country" among them. But Winkler and crew reimagine these chestnuts in new, vibrant ways that are very refreshing. (The upbeat "Time & Love," made famous by Barbra Streisand's cover, for example, is reinterpreted as a wistful ballad.) Winkler also successfully puts his unique stamp on several of Nyro's lesser known songs—"Upstairs By a Chinese Lamp," "Emmie" and "Buy And Sell"—whose inclusion, for this longtime Nyrotic, is a decided plus.

See www.markwinklermusic.com .

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