Saturday, August 30, 2014

Laura Nyro's Musical Life

What do the hit songs “Eli’s Comin” by Three Dog Night and “Wedding Bell Blues” by The Fifth Dimension have in common? They were written by the late Laura Nyro, who had many of her wonderful songs turned into chart topping hits by artists like Blood, Sweat & Tears and Barbra Streisand during the 60s & 70s. Nyro released her first record, More Than A New Discovery, in 1967, and went on to record several now classic albums, including Eli & The Thirteenth Confession (1968) and New York Tendaberry (1969). She was a gifted performer who stayed out of the limelight when she wasn’t recording or touring. Laura remained elusive offstage, and kept her personal life very private. Despite not being a household name to the casual listener, Nyro has gained a loyal following among music fans, critics & fellow musicians. The 2003 biography Soul Picnic: The Music & Passion of Laura Nyro by Michelle Kort, attempts to give us some deeper insight into the life & career of this talented artist, who passed away in 1997. Kort wisely focuses on Nyro’s music, and uses it as a window to tell her story. There are reminisces by Nyro’s family & friends, and stories about her upbringing & personal journey.

But the real pleasures & fascinating stories here are learning about the creation of her music: classic tunes like “And When I Die” and “Stoned Soul Picnic,” showcase Nyro's gift for unique lyrics & melodies. Despite her success, Nyro often clashed with producers & record company executives who didn’t understand her vision for her records, and how they should sound. Kort does a great job covering Nyro’s passionate, unflinching commitment to her music and how that music should feel to the listener. There’s in depth detail about the making of her albums & information about her concert tours, including input from studio musicians, producers & band members. There are also recollections from well known artists who either worked with Nyro or were influenced by her, including Todd Rundgren, & Patti Labelle (Nyro recorded a wonderful album of soul covers entitled Gonna Take a Miracle, with Labelle’s trio) and bass player Will Lee. Kort takes the time to analyze Nyro’s music & its origins in her personal life, and brings out some facts that the average fan may not know, including Nyro’s relationship with a young Jackson Browne.

This is a well-written biography that will appeal to music buffs that want to know more about Nyro’s background & history as an artist, as well as fans wanting a look into her creative process. The book also includes a discography, which was current at the time of the book's release, circa 2003. It was also published before Nyro’s induction into the R&R hall of fame in 2012, so there are no details about that well-deserved honor, but this is still a beautiful portrait of this acclaimed, powerful singer. Highly recommended, Soul Picnic: The Music & Passion of Laura Nyro is available in paperback & hardcover from online retailers like Amazon. Here are link’s to Laura’s version of Stoned Soul Picnic and Stoney End

Next time: The British (bands of the 80s) are coming...again!

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