First off, I didn’t know shit about Laura Nyro before I listened to this one. When the book’s review talked about her as a singer-songwriter that would later inspire Janis Ian and Tori Amos, I guess I expected an introspective flower power folk singer lady hunched over a piano singing vaguely caustic love songs.
I wasn’t expecting this.
Right from the opening moments of the first track “Luckie” you’re thrown into a big band style jazz feast with big bold vocals, a sonic stuffed crust meat feast pizza of intensity when you were expecting a musical macrobiotic salad.
Actually, when you think of it, maybe that Tori Amos comparison is right – after all for every gentle haunting song like “Silent all These Years” or “Winter” there was a “Crucify”, a “Mary” or a “Cornflake Girl”, which makes Laura Nyro an easier comparison. There’s also more than a touch of Carole King in here too.
This is an album that mixes up its style over and over again, but every track is bold and surprising, right from that big opener through to songs that actually rock a little bit like “Eli’s Coming”. And on the delightful “Stoned Soul Picnic”, you’d have to be pretty cold-hearted not to get a grin or two.
Even on the more classic ballads like “December’s Boudoir” or the sublime “Women’s Blues”, the gentle softer start gives way to powerful bass licks and drums, making this an unexpectedly exciting album, and the final moments of “Once it was Alright Now” are thrilling, pounding and relentless.
I loved this album. And while subsequent listens (when I knew what I was getting into) didn’t get me quite as much, there’s still a great singer-songwriter’s album to enjoy here, from a talented vocalist who’s as good at having fun with her songs as she is with the darker broodier moments.
Though she’d be seen as an influence on loads of later artists, Laura Nyro never really got the fame she deserved (and this album went nowhere in the charts) but the years have been kind, and here, 46 years later, it sounds fresh and vibrant. Sensual, energetic and majestic in just the right places, this is an album that needs to be heard.