When Mark Winkler, a quintessentially West Coast swinger, filled an album with Bobby Troup tunes a decade ago, it was a blissful marriage of hipster sensibilities. Winkler and Laura Nyro seem stranger bedfellows—California cool meets East Coast boho—yet Winkler, a gifted writer himself, makes the union work equally well. Nor was Nyro all dark-basement angst. Less hard-edged than such contemporaries as Dylan and Paul Simon, she, like Joni Mitchell, tended to float beyond category, blending a heady potpourri of folk, pop, jazz and show tunes. When that crazy mélange is filtered through Winkler’s laidback aesthetic, the results are quite magical.
Winkler draws exclusively from Nyro’s first four albums, spanning the years 1967 through 1970, when many of the songs became best known via Top 40 cover versions from the likes of Blood, Sweat and Tears and the Fifth Dimension. Ably supported by a shifting cast that includes pianists Eli Brueggemann and Eric Reed and guitarist Larry Koonse, all of whom also contribute arrangements, he follows the lead of those long-ago pop groups by making each of these 11 tunes distinctly his own. So, “Time and Love” is reinterpreted as a dreamy ballad; “He’s a Runner” emerges as an intensely personal tale of betrayal; the wine-steeped “Sweet Blindness” erupts as a riotous party worthy of Louis Prima; and the jaunty post-Kennedy politics of “Save the Country” become a salve for various postmillennial malaises.