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Laura Nyro


Country of origin:

U.S.

Type of music generally:

Mainstream pop, a blend of rock, blues, soul. Hard to classify. (mapravat@prairienet.org)

Status:

Most recent posthumous release, A Little Magic, A Little Kindness: The Complete Mono Albums Collection (compilation, 2017)

See also:

The Official Laura Nyro site

Wikipedia's entry for Laura Nyro

The Ectophiles' Guide entries for Laura Nyro and Labelle and for Time and Love: The Music of Laura Nyro

Comparisons:

The comparisons go the other way. Laura Nyro has influenced so many singer-songwriters, especially women in the "confessional" vein. (JoAnn Whetsell)

Covers/own material:

Mostly own, some covers

General comments:

I discovered Laura Nyro backwards, from a newspaper article about the release of Stoned Soul Picnic: The Best of Laura Nyro and Time and Love: A Tribute to Laura Nyro, which many singers I liked appeared on. After listening to Time and Love once, I was a fan of the music, and then I got Stoned Soul Picnic so I could hear the originals. (JoAnn Whetsell)

Around 1971, an author named Ellen Peck wrote in defense of voluntarily childless persons, "We may not know how to button our sweaters, but we do know how to tell Joni Mitchell from Laura Nyro", or words to that effect. The rather epiphenomenal context notwithstanding, it was a common sentiment among connoisseurs of midlist music in the late '60s and early '70s. They constituted a kind of yin and yang of women in music of the period: the pastoral-influenced esthetic vision of western Canadian Joni Mitchell vs. the urban-influenced one of New Yorker Nyro. In later years, ironically, their styles converged a little, Joni Mitchell's becoming a bit more urban and Nyro's a bit less so. For all that, such of Nyro's discography as is still available (which most of it is, though what's on store shelves at any given time may be spotty) remains an essentially unique musical experience.
     I lean weakly toward Eli and the Thirteenth Confession, her first album originally recorded for Columbia, as an all-around Nyro primer. New York Tendaberry, released about a year later, supplies more of the good stuff, but also contains a higher percentage than the others of lengthy, ponderous, even slightly boring tracks. This peccadillo abates slightly in Christmas and the Beads of Sweat, in which she also makes her initial, rather tentative ventures into politically themed lyrics.
     After doing an album a year for three years, she apparently took a year off, then returned in 1972 with an album of R&B covers with Labelle called Gonna Take A Miracle, her only one with no original material. In the next few years, she married (eventually divorced), moved from New York, and ultimately had a child. This changing set of influences is discernable in Smile. This overall shift in consciousness can also be observed in her concert album, Season of Lights (1977, now apparently out of print); her renditions of her own material seem more laid-back than the original studio versions had been.
     Nyro then went back on hiatus, becoming active in liberal causes such as peace, animal rights, American Indians, et al., albeit not at the forefront of any of them. About 1983 or 1984 she released Mother's Spiritual, the last for Columbia, and the only one I have never heard. It too is apparently out of print, but its content undoubtedly reflects the concerns just mentioned to a substantial degree. She has surfaced but twice more, to do Laura Live At the Bottom Line and Walk the Dog and Light the Light. Laura Live At the Bottom Line combines some of her old favorites, a few covers, and some new songs into a generally pleasing package. The lyrics of the new songs continue to give substantial play to such recent concerns in her life as the environment, animals, and children. (mapravat@prairienet.org)

Without a doubt my favorite Laura Nyro album is Christmas and the Beads of Sweat mostly because "Upstairs by a Chinese Lamp" is on it—one of my all-time favorite songs. (spike45@sos.net)

Recommended first album:

Stoned Soul Picnic: The Best of Laura Nyro, if you can afford a double cd. Otherwise The First Songs or Eli and the Thirteenth Confession. (JoAnn Whetsell)

Eli and the Thirteenth Confession. The best of Laura Nyro's albums, especially for those on the learning curve, are her first four: Eli and the Thirteenth Confession, New York Tendaberry, Christmas and the Beads of Sweat and The First Songs. Her double concert album, Season of Lights, is also well worth a listen if you can find it. (mapravat@prairienet.org)

Recordings:


More Than a New Discovery

Release info:

1966—Verve Folkways

Availability:

Out of print

Ecto priority:

For fans only

Group members:

Laura Nyro—vocals, piano

Guest artists:

Herb Bernstein—arrangements and conducting

Produced by:

Milt Okun

Comments:

Re-issued in 1969 by Verve Forecast as Laura Nyro and in 1973 by Columbia as The First Songs, both with different song orders. (JoAnn Whetsell)

Eli and the Thirteenth Confession

Release info:

1968—Columbia—PCT 9626 [MC]

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Laura Nyro—voice, piano, witness to the confession

Guest artists:

Charlie Calello—arrangements
Michael Mainieri—vibes
No info on inlay card about backup musicians

Produced by:

Charlie Calello and Laura Nyro

Comments:

Certainly a classic and one of her best albums. In it you can see her development from her first album to New York Tendaberry. Some songs are more similar to the "pop"pier tunes of the former while others are more balladic. And others are in-between and unclassifiable. Plus there's "Emmie" (credited with being radio's first lesbian love song) and Laura's classics "Eli's Comin" and "The Confession." If you only own one Laura Nyro album, this is probably the one to have. (JoAnn Whetsell)

In it we see her trademark blend of jazz, blues, R&B, and other quintessentially urban American musical influences approach its full development, though it was quite observable in the first album as well. (mapravat@prairienet.org)


New York Tendaberry

Release info:

1969—Columbia—CK 9737 [CD]

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Recommended

Group members:

Laura Nyro—vocals, piano, arrangements

Guest artists:

Jimmy Haskell—conductor, consultant
No info on inlay card about backup musicians

Produced by:

Laura Nyro and Roy Halee

Comments:

Unfortunately, neither this album nor its title track have ever managed to captivate me. I find it distractingly uneven. There are upbeat "pop"pier songs I enjoy like "Tom Cat goodbye", "Save the Country", and "Time and Love". And then there are long ballads that I find kind of drawn out and frankly, boring at times. I love how she uses her voice to go from very soft and slow and then suddenly more passionate and aggressive, and back down and in between, but too much of that style can be a bit too much. But "Gibsom Street" and "Captain Saint Lucifer" are stand-outs. (JoAnn Whetsell)

Christmas and the Beads of Sweat

Release info:

1970—Columbia—CK30259 [CD]

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Laura Nyro—vocals, piano, arrangements

Guest artists:

Roger Hawkins, Dino Danelli—drums
Dave Hood, Chuck Rainey, Richard Davis—bass
Eddie Hinton, Cornell Dupree, Duane Allman—electric guitar
Stu Sharf—acoustic guitar
Barry Beckett—vibes
Jack Jennings, Ralph MacDonald—percussion
Felix Cavaliere—organ, bells
Joe Farrell—woodwinds
Alice Coltrane—harp
Ashod Garabedian—oudi
Michael Szittai—cimbalin
Arif Mardin—conductor, arrangements

Produced by:

Arif Mardin and Felix Cavaliere

Comments:

Perhaps my favorite of Laura's albums. "When I Was a Freeport and You Were the Main Drag," "Blackpatch," "Upstairs By a Chinese Lamp," "Beads of Sweat," a great cover of "Up On the Roof," "Map to the Treasure" which has an awesome extended piano part, and the hand-written lyrics and drawings are reason enough to buy this album. The other songs are good too; more of Laura's trademark style, similar to the music on Eli and the Thirteenth Confession, but showing musical growth too. (JoAnn Whetsell)

The First Songs

Release info:

1973—Columbia—PCT 31410 [MC]

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Laura Nyro—vocals, piano

Guest artists:

Herb Bernstein—arrangements and conducting
No info on inlay card about backup musicians

Produced by:

Milt Okun

Comments:

This album is essential for fans. It's her most pop album, but fairly sophisticated pop, and a lot of fun. (JoAnn Whetsell)

The First Songs was released first on another label, withdrawn, and eventually picked up by Columbia, her label for most of her career. Taken in the context of her first several albums, it shows her talent still in the process of development; most of the songs on it show greater sophistication than the typical pop-chart occupants of the period, but less than what she would come up with a few years later. Some are quite good, some so-so, but none are genuinely bad. Several (as well as some on later albums) were later covered by mainstream pop/rock artists, who achieved more fame with them than she did. (Former Columbia head Clive Davis wrote in his autobiography that Nyro consistently refused to go along with minor changes, especially with regard to length, that he believed would increase her records' commercial appeal substantially.) (mapravat@prairienet.org)


Smile

Release info:

1976—Columbia—CK 33912 [CD]

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Recommended

Group members:

Laura Nyro—piano, guitar, woodblock

Guest artists:

Will Lee—bass
Chris Parker—drum
John Tropea—guitar
Paul Messing—triangle
Joe Farrell—saxophone
Richard Davis—bass
Hugh McCracken—guitar
Bob Babbit—bass
Alan Schwartzberg—drum
John Miranov, Jerry Friedman—guitars
Jimmy MaCullen—tambourine, woodblock
David Friedman—vibes
Michael Brecker—saxophone, flute
Joe Beck—guitar
Randy Brecker—trumpet
Nydia Liberty Mata—conga drum
George Young—fiddle, flute, saxophone
Jan Nigro—guitar
Reubens Bassini—shaker
Gregory Royce Bennett—guitar
Carter C.C. Collins—conga drum
Rick Marotta—drum
Reiko Kamota, Nisako Yoshida—koto

Produced by:

Charlie Callelo and Laura Nyro

Comments:

The music is less urban-influenced, closer to what we would now call New Age; some Oriental influences also entered in, but the musical arrangements generally are a bit less elaborate than before. Themes of relationships and their fragility are somewhat more explicit than before. (mapravat@prairienet.org)

I was a little hesitant to get this album, just because it doesn't have many songs I knew by name already. I think "Money" was the only hit song it had, but I'm so glad I got over my hesitation, because this is another great album. More laidback, but still very much Laura's trademark style, so I wouldn't call it New Age or even approaching New Age, but perhaps a more mellow Laura. Highly recommended, especially for fans. (JoAnn Whetsell)


Season of Lights

Release info:

1977—Columbia

Availability:

Rare; Available as a Japanese import

Group members:

Laura Nyro—voice, piano, acoustic guitar

Guest artists:

John Tropea—electric guitar
Michael Mainieri—vibes, baliphone, clavinet
Andy Newmark—drums
Richard Davis—bass
Nydia "Liberty" Mata—congas and percussion
Ellen Seeling—trumpet
Jeff King—saxophone
Jeanie Fineberg—flute and saxophone
Carter C.C. Collins—percussion

Comments:

Laura Nyro live. 16 tracks. Oh, this is great, well worth looking for. The songs are close enough but different enough from their originals to make it a live album well worth buying, and there's even a new song, "The Morning News." The jazz and blues infleunces are more pronounced. Also, a lot of the earlier songs are slowed down here ("Timer", "The Confession", "And When I Die", "Captain", "St. Lucifer", "Sweet Blindness"), which makes them really interesting. The only song this doesn't really work for me on is "When I Was a Freeport and You were the Main Drag," but it's still an interesting contrast to the album version and to the other songs here because it's solo, just Laura and the piano. A lot of the later songs, which admittedly could get a bit tedious on the albums, seem more energetic here. Highly, highly recommended, and a definite must-have for fans. (JoAnn Whetsell)

Nested

Release info:

1978—Columbia—PCT 35449 [MC]

Availability:

Out of print

Ecto priority:

Recommended

Group members:

Laura Nyro—piano (acoustic and electric), church organ, guitar, string ensemble

Guest artists:

Will Lee—bass
Andy Newmark—drums
Vinnie Cusano, John Tropea—guitars
Nydia "Liberty" Mata—percussion
John Sebastian—harmonica
Felix Cavaliere—electric piano on "The Sweet Sky", organ on "The Nest" Cyril Cianflone plays on "Mr. Blue"
Tony Levin plays on "American Dreamer"

Produced by:

Laura Nyro and Roscoe Harring

Comments:

Nested may be hard to find, but is worth picking up if stumbled upon. Its overall style and substance are closer to the other postmarital recordings than to the earlier ones, but some of the old stylistic elements begin to reappear. Unsurprisingly, relationships, motherhood and childhood are significant themes in the lyrics. (mapravat@prairienet.org)

Mother's Spiritual

Release info:

1984—Columbia

Availability:

Hard to find

Ecto priority:

Recommended

Group members:

Laura Nyro—voice, harmonies, acoustic and electric piano, dulcimer on "Sophia"

Guest artists:

John Bristow—electric guitar
Lisa Sunshine—bass
Terry Silverlight—drums
Todd Rundgren—synthesizer
Nydia Liberty Mata—percussion
Jan Nigro—acoustic guitar
Julie Lyonn Lieberman—violin

Produced by:

Laura Nyro

"Laura" Live at the Bottom Line

Release info:

1989—Cypress—YC 6430 [MC]

Availability:

Hard to find

Ecto priority:

Recommended

Group members:

Laura Nyro—voice, keyboards

Guest artists:

Jimmy Vivino—guitar, harmony, electric mandolin
Frank Pagano—drums, harmony
David Wofford—bass
Nydia Liberty Mata—percussion
Diane Wilson—harmony

Produced by:

Laura Nyro, Jimmy Vivino

Walk the Dog and Light the Light

Release info:

1993—Columbia/Sony

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Recommended

Group members:

Laura Nyro—lead voice, harmonies, keyboards, string arrangements

Guest artists:

Bernard Purdie—drums
Freddie Washington—bass
Jerry Jemmott—bass
Elliott Randall, Michael Landau, Ira Siegal—guitars
Bashiri Johnson, Eric McKain—percussion
Ellen Uryevick—harp
Juliet Haffner, Sue Pray, Julie Green, Jeanne LeBlanc, Marilyn Wright, Belinda Whitney Barrat, Joyce Hammann, Beryl Diamond, Rani Vaz, Laura Seaton, Gene Orloff, Sanford Allen, Mindy Jostyn—singing
Lou Marini, Roger Rosenberg, Randy Brecker, Michael Brecker, Lawrence Feldman—horns
Carlos Franzetti—string arrangements
David Frank—horn and flute arrangements, additional production assistance

Produced by:

Gary Katz and Laura Nyro

Stoned Soul Picnic: The Best of Laura Nyro

Release info:

1997—Columbia/Legacy

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly, highly recommended

Produced by:

Dan Loggins compilation producer

Comments:

Another essential for fans and a great introduction to her work for fans-to-be. The first disc covers her first four albums. The second disc covers her later albums, her work with Labelle (from Gonna Take a Miracle) plus some previously unreleased live tracks. There's also a nice bio, photos, and some lyrics. (JoAnn Whetsell)

Live From Mountain Stage

Release info:

2000—Blue Plate Music (33 Music Square West, #102B, Nashville, TN 37203)—BPM-403

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended (essential for fans)

Produced by:

Al Bunetta, Dan Einstein, Billy Prine

Comments:

Recorded live for the Mountain Stage radio program on November 11, 1990. The booklet doesn't contain any information on performers, only the names and instruments played of the "Mountain Stage Band." However, this sounds like Laura solo, on vocals and keyboards. Regardless, it's a wonderful album. Most of the songs are from her later years, but "And When I Die" is a great rendition of one of her early hits,and it has the best version I've heard of "Emmie." (JoAnn Whetsell)

Angel in the Dark

Release info:

2001—Rounder Records—11661-3176-2

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Essential for fans

Group members:

Laura Nyro—lead vocal, harmonies, electric piano, acoustic piano

Guest artists:

John Tropea—electric guitars, guitar, acoustic guitars
Freddie Washington—bass
Bernard Purdie—drums
Bashiri Johnson—percussion
Randy Brecker—trumpet
Michael Brecker—tenor saxophone
John Tropea and Tommy Mitchell—horn arrangements
Jeff Pevar—guitar
Will Lee—bass
Chris Parker—drums
Carol Steele—percussion

Produced by:

Laura Nyro; Eileen Silver-Lillywhite, executive producer

Spread Your Wings and Fly: Live at the Fillmore East May 30, 1971

Release info:

2004—Columbia Records—CK 92493

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Laura Nyro—vocals, piano

Produced by:

Al Quaglieri

Comments:

I feel a little weird about buying Laura's posthumous albums, like they're being released just so people can continue to make money off her. But they're also released so that her fans can continue to enjoy her magic, especially in the concerts many of us were unable to attend. So in that spirit, I bought Spread Your Wings and Fly, and I think it was in that spirit that it was released. It's quickly become my favorite of the live albums I own. Maybe because it's so intimate a performance, just Laura and her piano with an appreciative crowd. Maybe because it's got such a range of material. The 12 tracks contain 17 songs (a few are medleys), including 6 covers, 2 originals never released elsewhere (the title comes from the lyrics to one of these, "American Dove"), and spanning 5 albums and 10 years. Maybe because it's just more of Laura's magic, which I cannot get enough of. (JoAnn Whetsell)

Further info:

Laura Nyro appears on the compilations: Soundtrack For a Century, Rolling Stone: Women In Rock, and Til Their Eyes Shine. In 1997, Time and Love: The Music of Laura Nyro was released. It features artists Jonatha Brooke, Holly Cole, Lisa Germano, Patty Larkin, Jane Siberry, Jill Sobule, and Sweet Honey in the Rock, among others.


Thanks to Jens P. Tagore Brage, Mitch Pravatiner, and JoAnn Whetsell for work on this entry.

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Entry last updated 2017-09-17 18:40:53.
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