Laura Nyro isn’t everybody’s idea of a good time — at first. But like all good things, she grows with knowing, and if you don’t know her you’re missing a treat. She has the emotional appeal of Garland without the hysteria latent in all Judy’s later work, the sophistication of Streisand minus the supper club associations, and above all she’s got Soul, capital S.
Since 1967, the year of her first record and a disastrous appearance at the Monterey Festival (they just weren’t ready for her recreation of a late 50’s Apollo act) that turned so many names into instant Superstars, she’s been achieving not only an ever widening underground audience, but also creeping into public consciousness through the recordings of her own songs by Barbra Streisand – Stony End; the 5th Dimension – Stone Soul Picnic, Sweet Blindness, Wedding Bell Blues; Blood Sweat & Tears’ And When I Die and Three Dog Night’s Eli’s Comin.
Born and bred in New York City of Italian/Jewish stock, Laura is the epitome of city soul. Her songs are about life, love, dope, wine, and the streets – the city kid’s environment in fact – and many of them just have to be autobiographical.
Her songs are hard to describe — some are heavy versions of the best of Bacharach/David, others with their broken time signatures could link with Jimmy Webb. But one thing they all have in common – they swing, and none so much as Gonna Take a Miracle (the latest album). For a non-believer this is the record to get into first, the record that proved to the sceptics that she’s been where they were going – rather like Charlie Mingus had to cut Blues and Roots before he was able to record his more complex themes on his own terms. Miracle is the re-creation of the great early 60’s sounds that just hasn’t been bettered. Backed by Patti Labelle’s group Labelle, side one starts with an acapella version of I Met Him On A Sunday – the sort of thing recently you could hear groups of kids singing in New York subways (great for tone and echo) in the middle 50’s. The Bells contains some of the funkiest back up wailing against Laura’s lead vocal you’ll ever hear. Cold sweat music indeed. Dancing m the Street, You Really Got A hold Of Me, Spanish Harlem and Jimmy Mack are recreated and completely renewed without losing any of the urgent vitality of the originals.
It’s one of the funkiest, funniest, saddest, joyful.recreations of a past era ever attempted, and the liner notes (this is all of them) sum it up well;
in New York
running down steps
into the echoes of the train station
to sing …
four crazy angels indeed. And one of the most neglected and underestimated records of this or any other year.
On the other three available records – Eli and the Thirteenth Confession, Christmas and the Beads of Sweat and New York Tendaberry (the first record, originally released by MGM, is now deleted but rumoured for imminent re-release) the songs run the gammut from joy – Sweet Blindness, Stoned Soul Picnic, Lucki, Time and Love, to autobiographical songs that have obviously been painful to live through and helped her to write about.
On most of the songs she double-tracks and manages to produce the effect of a very together Motown back-up group.
All these albums are essential listening to anyone sick of the mindless immediate inanities of T. Rex and their ilk. These records will be valid for a long time – they get under your skin and stay there. Listen in a warm room on winter evening (or for that matter in a cool room in summer) with someone you love. Be still, let it come to you. Feel mellow then feel mellower – you know what I mean?
Laura Nyro records have probably never made CBS a fortune, but as a songwriter the royalties are rolling in, and it’s rumoured that a two million dollar contract has been signed.
Laura insisted, and got, complete control of production and packaging, and for once it’s completely justified.
A consummate artist/songwriter doing what she knows is best. Now it’s only up to you to hear and agree.