Laura Nyro | More Than a New Discovery-vinyl reissue | (Real Gone/Second Disc)
5 out of 5 stars
When it comes to acknowledging the finest, most influential singer-songwriter debuts, names like James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, Carole King and others typically get the nod. But somehow Laura Nyro’s astonishing first album from 1967 gets overlooked.
Listening again to this– now newly released on vinyl (violet colored! and available on Amazon) in its original package design, mono mix, track order and without the reverb added later– it’s difficult to understand how the appropriately titled More Than a New Discovery somehow avoided, and continues to evade, the critical raves many of Nyro’s peers received.
It’s especially odd because at least five of its dozen tracks were substantial hits. Unfortunately they were for other artists like Barbra Streisand (“Stoney End,” “Hands off the Man [The Flim Flam Man]”), Blood, Sweat & Tears (“And When I Die”), and the 5th Dimension (“Wedding Bell Blues,” “Blowing Away”). Nyro’s initial versions of these classics are decidedly rawer, which in retrospect makes this a more visceral listening experience.
Nyro was extraordinarily accomplished during these sessions as a brash 19 year old, NYC based pianist and composer. Her pure, distinctive vocals are instantly recognizable with a combination of soul, pop, gospel and even Broadway influences. They show none of the tentative tics you might expect from someone this young. Also, few others her age were writing lyrics like “When dying time is near/just bundle up my coffin ‘cause it’s cold way down there,” let alone marrying them to melodies and hooks that resonated with audiences, although not in Nyro’s versions.
Nyro’s pop sensibility is never far from the surface in lesser-known tunes such as the Motown-styled opener “Goodbye Joe” and the foot tapping, near bluegrass closer “California Shoeshine Boys.” It hard to imagine that only two years later the same artist would create the stripped down and powerfully personal ruminations of her stark and intense New York Tendaberry set. Like Joni Mitchell in her Hejira era, Nyro leaned towards jazz, in particular on “Lazy Susan,” although she displayed those tendencies earlier than Mitchell.
Let’s hope more than collectors get a chance to experience Laura Nyro’s talents in this limited edition vinyl reissue the way they were heard over 50 years ago.
This music hasn’t aged since it was recorded five decade ago. These dozen tracks total only 36 minutes but at the end of just over a half hour, there is no doubt that Nyro’s earliest recordings are as good and arguably better than other singer/songwriters who went on to greater acclaim.