In the spring of 1968, Laura Nyro’s Columbia Records debut Eli and the Thirteenth Confession unleashed something very unique and beautiful onto the scene. Unfortunately, the album fell on mostly deaf ears, peaking at #189 on the Billboard 200. Nearly thirty years later, Laura Nyro is still woefully unknown to the public, although the potency of her music remains.
While the instrumentation and influences evident in Eli and the Thirteenth Confession are mostly familiar, new perspectives and directions make the album into the radical experience that it is. Reviewers commonly refer to the music as an amalgamation of Soul, Pop, Jazz, Broadway, and whatever else, but these styles are so expertly fused into something wonderfully new, that naming the possible components just isn’t worthwhile. “Sweet Blindness” may sound age-old, but there’s never been another drinking song remotely like it. “Poverty Train” goes to more places, and back again, than any of Bob Dylan and company’s “protest” songs. Sexual revolutions and all, a woman ending her album by screaming “love my lovething” had to have been something original. Throughout the record, Laura’s voice, piano, and guitars careen and writhe all over, tempos and chord structures being swept to and fro at her pleasing. But originality is only half of the story. The energy and sincerity of Laura’s songs is at once confounding and life-affirming. If we’d like to use the term, Laura Nyro had a hell of a lot of soul. Her voice alone creates much of the appeal of the record, at times sorrowful, grumbling, at times joyful and chirping, but at all times infinitely human.
This is a definition of a master in one space in time, and a model for the kind of innovations that can be borne of Popular music. Maybe in another thirty years Laura will have the audience she always deserved. —Matthew