|Wedding Bell Blues||More Than A New Discovery|
|Stoned Soul Picnic||Eli And The Thirteenth Confession|
|Poverty Train||Eli And The Thirteenth Confession|
|You Don't Love Me When I Cry||New York Tendaberry|
|Captain Saint Lucifer||New York Tendaberry|
|Upstairs By A Chinese Lamp||Christmas And The Beads Of Sweat|
|The Bells||Gonna Take A Miracle|
|And When I Die||Season Of Lights|
|I'm So Proud /|
Dedicated To The One I Love
|Walk The Dog & Light The Light|
Contributor: Robert Webb
Like Randy Newman and Carole King, Laura Nyro launched herself in the sixties as a jobbing writer. Her radio-friendly songs were hits in the hands of others: the perfect pop of Wedding Bell Blues, a chart hit for the Fifth Dimension, And When I Die for Blood, Sweat & Tears and the glorious Stoney End for Barbra Streisand. Only just out of her teens, these were songs Nyro also gathered up for release on her own recording debut, More Than A New Discovery, in 1967.
Nyro (rhymes with “hero”), from a New York Italian Catholic and Jewish background, was first properly noticed as a singer in her own right when she appeared at the Monterey Pop Festival that same year. The West Coast hippie audience nodded their tentative approval, perhaps unsure what to make of this raven-haired diva, as she swooped her way through Poverty Train, Eli’s Coming and the old-school swing of Wedding Bell Blues. Lou Adler, the festival’s promoter, claimed she brought along a nightclub act and not what he was expecting. The story goes that she left the stage in tears, convinced she had been booed off and that her band, struggling to keep up with her intricate arrangements and soaring operatic delivery, had her set cut short to avoid embarrassment. When Adler later examined the tapes, it turned out the boos she heard was someone shouting “beautiful”!
Despite the false start, Nyro soon found a cult audience with Eli And The Thirteenth Confession (1968) and the collection she called her “heart and soul”, New York Tendaberry (1969). Both albums exude passion and performance. Her voice was like no other; her songs took off in unexpected directions ranging across soul, blues, folk, jazz and rock. Nyro was Miles and Motown, Gershwin and Gospel all rolled into one.
In the seventies, she made a run of records that continued to fray the edges of musical genre. Gonna Take A Miracle (1971), cut with the group Labelle, was her tribute to the doo-wop she’d heard and sung herself on Bronx street corners and in subway tunnels, back when the fifties was turning into the sixties. Her producer, Leon Huff, set a wager: five hundred dollars that the naturally spontaneous Nyro couldn’t complete her vocal tracks for the entire album in under three hours. One hundred and eighty minutes later, Huff was five hundred dollars down and Nyro had made one of the finest white soul albums ever.
By the early nineties, she had spent the better part of two decades touring and had added just a handful of albums to her catalogue, with ever-longer pauses between each. The gaps in these years have since been filled in part by the release of contemporary concert recordings, the best of which is perhaps Live At Carnegie Hall, a 1976 radio broadcast.
Of her later studio albums, Walk The Dog & Light The Light (1993) and the posthumous Angel In The Dark (2001) are more mellow, contemplative affairs, boasting covers of some of soul’s sweetest songs, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, La La Means I Love You and I’m So Proud, alongside Nyro’s own compositions. “As a writer, I use everything,” she commented in a short film made by her partner Maria Desiderio in 1995. “Feminism, my spirituality, motherhood. You use your intelligence … you just have to work every single day.”
Although they made only modest sales, her albums have been hugely influential, not least for subsequent generations of female singer-songwriters, from Rickie Lee Jones to Suzanne Vega to Tori Amos. Others, too, found them indispensable. Todd Rundgren, for one, has openly acknowledged the influence of Eli And The Thirteenth Confession: “I stopped writing songs like the Who and started writing like Laura Nyro.”
Nyro’s final project, before being diagnosed with ovarian cancer, was to curate a CD retrospective of her career. She died in 1997. “It’s been quite a life,” she told Desiderio. “It was a beautiful life. It was very joyful.”