Nyro peaked early, and Eli and the Thirteenth Confession, just her second album, remains her best. It's not only because it contains the original versions of no less than three songs that were big hits for other artists: "Sweet Blindness" (covered by the 5th Dimension), "Stoned Soul Picnic" (also covered by the 5th Dimension), and "Eli's Comin'" (done by Three Dog Night). It's not even just because those three songs are so outstanding. It's because the album as a whole is so outstanding, with its invigorating blend of blue-eyed soul, New York pop, and early confessional singer/songwriting. Nyro sang of love, inscrutably enigmatic romantic daredevils, getting drunk, lonely women, and sensual desire with an infectious joie de vivre. The arrangements superbly complemented the material with lively brass, wailing counterpoint backup vocals, and Nyro's own ebullient piano.
After a five-year hiatus, singer/songwriter Laura Nyro returned with Smile in 1976. On this disc, Nyro's somewhat idiosyncratic writing and performance style is decidedly subdued. In its stead is a light pop and jazz feel similar to that of Maria Muldaur's mid-'70s recordings. Supporting Nyro instrumentally is virtually a who's who of New York and Los Angeles studio stalwarts. While the prowess of folks like Will Lee (bass), brothers Randy Brecker (trumpet) and Michael Brecker (flute/sax), Hugh McCracken (guitar), and Rick Marotta (drums) certainly strengthens Nyro's already laid-back material, it likewise reduces her to sounding like a Joni Mitchell ripoff. The undeniable highlight of Smile is the maturity in the songwriting. It becomes obvious that the half-decade away has done some significant good in revealing a decidedly positive evolution in Nyro's approach to her own life. What's more is that the material on this album seems to come from a place of contentment.
This ten-track budget-priced collection, excerpted and resequenced from a longer version released in Japan, presents Laura Nyro at the piano along with a female vocal trio, performing a combination of the hit songs she penned, some 1950s and '60s hits of others she loved, and some of her newer material of the early 1990s. Four rock & roll oldies, the Shirelles' "Dedicated to the One I Love," the Miracles' "Ooh Baby Baby," Dionne Warwick's "Walk On By," and the Everly Brothers' "Let It Be Me," are interrupted by three of Nyro's own oldies, "And When I Die," "Save the Country," and "Wedding Bell Blues." This abbreviated version of the set then concludes with three then-recent songs, "Light a Flame (The Animal Rights Song)," "Louise's Church," and "Woman of the World," songs that continue to seem more preachy and less personal than her earlier work.
Double-CD, career-spanning retrospective that offers little in the way of surprises: it's a tastefully selected overview of her career highlights, heaviest (and justifiably so) on her late '60s albums. There's the inevitable feeling of letdown as disc two progresses; her post-early '70s material is far less interesting than her earliest work, even if it's inoffensive. All of the first five albums (through 1971's Gonna Take a Miracle) are now on CD, so this is most suitable for the fan who isn't passionate enough to be a completist. Includes a couple of previously unreleased live tracks from the 1990s; the version of "Sweet Blindness," unfortunately, is not the original late-'60s recording, but from a late-'70s live album.
Laura Nyro's third Columbia effort is easily the equal of her previous two. The overwhelming strength of her song writing and distinctive arrangements fuel Christmas and the Beads of Sweat. Her unmistakable style of delivery maintains the continual examination of herself as a performer. The results are uniformly interesting and provocative as she continues to draw upon her love of jazz, folk, and R&B – which would inform Nyro's next album ,Gonna Take a Miracle, featuring the soul vocal trio LaBelle. Conceptually, this album is as potent as her previous effort, New York Tendaberry, but in a much different way. Rather than hanging together thematically, Christmas and the Beads of Sweat features two inclusive and distinctive sides of music – with different musicians and producers for each.
Recorded just a few years before her tragically early death at age 49, these performances at her annual Christmas Eve concerts at New York's Bottom Line find Laura revisiting her own stunning songs as well as cover songs she held close to her heart. These riveting, spare arrangements feature only voices and piano and include To a Child; And When I Die; Save the Country; Angel in the Dark; Wedding Bell Blues; Broken Rainbow; Wind; Emmie; Let It Be Me; Ooh Baby, Baby; Dedicated to the One I Love 24 impassioned performances on 2 CDs!
Angel in the Dark is a lovely recording featuring the graceful vocals and finely crafted songs that everyone expects from Laura Nyro. These sessions were completed in the summer of 1995 and represent the last music Nyro recorded. The title cut and "Sweet Dream Fade" mine the same soul terrain as her late '60s recordings, featuring horns and underlined by heavy guitar riffs. These upbeat pieces perfectly integrate voice, arrangements, and lyrics to create an organic whole, and are two of the best cuts on the album. Slower, piano-based songs like "Triple Goddess Twilight," "He Was Too Good to Me," and "Serious Playground" are mixed in-between these songs. These pieces are quieter and introspective, with Nyro's voice more intimate. It is almost as though she was sitting at the piano, late at night, and singing to herself. There are also several covers including "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" and "Let It Be Me." The first of these is over five minutes and has been slowed down so much that it drags. In fact, she slows down all of the covers as if to convert them into heartfelt ballads.
This entry into the Japan-only Premium Best series highlights the recordings of composer/performer Laura Nyro. Unlike other single-CD North American compilations, this 16-track disc gives sufficient time to her tragically underappreciated post-Smile recordings. Several of these titles are not even available on CD in the States, which is perhaps correlated to the seeming lack of interest. There are actually numerous advantages to this collection – not the least of which is the artist-sensitive track list. Presumably the Premium Best series is aimed at the casual enthusiast, as the hardcore collector would either already own the contents or buy it anyway if they were a completist. By including seminal album sides such as the imperially haunting "New York Tendaberry" and "Upstairs by a Chinese Lamp," a more accurate overview of Nyro's career is presented here.