Scintillating Rhapsodies – Denis Cohn

THE FIRST SONGSLaura Nyro – CBS 64991

Laura Nyro is raw experience filtered through the swinging prism of sophisticated New York funk. The First Songs, briefly available some years ago, are chronologically first in her relatively small output (5 albums in 7 years). Stylistically, this is perhaps the lushest music she has recorded, and contains three of her most stunning songs – Wedding Bell Blues, Stoney End, And When I Die (all heavily covered by other performers).

Her output of songs is small, but each song is perilously near a classic, and I feel the intensity generated by her records is one of the reasons she has never been taken to the heart of the British public. This isn’t hip muzak, but chamber music pop and demands the sort of total attention and concentration that few people can afford to give.

There’s also a strong element of disturbing truth in most of the songs. Analysis without the analyst. But make no mistake – she swings. The music itself, although based on simple melodic chords, is overlayed by multi-track dubs, and often produces the ‘wall of sound’ often associated with Phil Spector. But in 1966 wasn’t everyone influenced by him?

Laura Nyro is an enigma. Her name often appears in all the right publications, but her private life (except the clues she provides in her lyrics) is her own. No sleeve-notes – just the lyrics, but it’s possible to guess a lot from them.

And the voice. She knows every trick in the book – the squeals, the excitement, the dark, deep soul notes, and the way to skate across a melody lighter, more delicately than anyone I know. Nyro songs often make the charts, but Nyro LP’s don’t. That’s such shame, put it to rights.

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