New York’s Laura Nyro wrote a batch of hit songs in in the late 1960s, and is an inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Her confessional songs foreshadowed the singer-songwriter movement of the early 1970s, and she was cited as an inspiration by Joni Mitchell, Elton John, Kate Bush, Suzanne Vega, Tori Amos, and Todd Rundgren. Todd Rundgren is quoted as statingthat when he heard her music, he “stopped writing songs like The Who and started writing songs like Laura.”
But at the same time, Nyro was effectively a cult artist. She was never quite in tune with the times – she peaked before the singer-songwriter fad of the early 1970s, when her music would have been fashionable. Her debut album, More Than A New Discovery, is full of strong songs, but the straightforward arrangements didn’t belong in 1967, dominated by psychedelic rock.
Nyro was from the Bronx, and her father was a piano tuner and jazz trumpeter. She was inspired by a melting pot of New York sounds – R&B, gospel, Broadway, and pop are all in her musical DNA. At the age of 17 Nyro recorded a demo of ‘And When I Die’, which was recorded by Peter, Paul and Mary. After an excellent series of albums between 1967 and 1971, she quit the music business, marrying a Vietnam war veteran and moved to the country. She would later return to the music business after her divorce, but only recorded four further albums before her death from ovarian cancer at the age of 49.
Nyro’s best records are adventurous, with tempo and rhythm changes. Her voice is rich and powerful, but perhaps an acquired taste. While Nyro’s songs sometimes go in unexpected directions, her personal lyrics and pop hooks give listeners plenty to hold onto. Nyro’s music is deep and fascinating, and she’s a pioneer of expressive, impressionist music.
Laura Nyro Album Reviews
More Than A New Discovery | Eli and the Thirteenth Confession | New York Tendaberry | Christmas and the Beads of Sweat | Gonna Take A Miracle
More Than A New Discovery
Laura Nyro was still a teenager when she released her debut album. It was recorded with Verve Records, who didn’t allow Nyro to play piano or to arrange her material, instead using session professionals. The result is a very strait-laced album that nevertheless showcases Nyro’s song-writing and vocal talents. These songs are more linear than Nyro’s subsequent albums, and a bunch of them ended up as hits for other artists – Blood, Sweat, and Tears, The 5th Dimension, and Barbra Streisand all subsequently scored top ten singles from this pool of songs.
While it’s not as immersive and impressionistic as what was to come from Nyro, these songs are strong enough to withstand the routine arrangements. ‘Wedding Bell Blues’ was later a number one hit for The 5th Dimension, but the arrangement here is very similar, but failed to crack the top 100. Despite the straightforward nature of the record, ‘Stoney End’ and ‘And When I Die’ are subversive with pokes at Christianity, while using a gospel palette. Uptempo pieces like ‘California Shoeshine Boys’ and ‘Flim Flam Man’ are fun, while the mellow ‘He’s A Runner’ is beautiful.
Nyro would go on to even better things, but there’s a very good core of songs on this debut record.
More Than A New Discovery was re-released in 1973 as The First Songs with a rearranged track order, and it’s this version that I’m familiar with.