Laura Nyro is an artist I’ve been aware of for many years, but never quite got around to listening to. Even the last year, when I’ve amassed a lot of records, including several of Nyro’s, I haven’t really listened very carefully to her stuff. Don’t know why that is. I know she was a great song writer, and lots of her stuff-“Eli’s Coming,” “Stoney End,” “Wedding Bell Blues,”-were made famous by other artists. And they were mostly pop songs, recorded by pop artists like The Fifth Dimension, Barbara Streisand and Three Dog Night, artists which in my youthful intolerance were somehow beneath me.
Even so, I have several of Nyro’s LP’s on my Discogs wantlist, and when I ran across a cheap copy of New York Tendaberry a few weeks ago, while on my mission to snag Buck Dharma’s Flat Out, I snapped it up. I sat down to listen last night and was utterly blown away. I’ve listened to Gonna Take a Miracle, and it was nice but this record is something different.
First, it lacks the really big hit many of Nyro’s others have. The most recognizable song is “Save the Country.” Recorded in 1969 against the backdrop of the rising anti-war movement, violence in the city, assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, this social commentary was recorded by the Fifth Dimension and appears on their 1970 album Portrait.
What makes Tendaberry different than other Nyro albums I’ve heard is the songwriting and arrangements. This is a deeply personal record, and the recording is quite stark, frequently just Nyro and her piano. It is deeply confessional. “Captain for Dark Mornings,” and “The Man Who Sends Me Home” are two songs that feature just Nyro and the keyboard. Only “Time and Love” is upbeat and typical of her other works.
Though Nyro’s body of work has many influences-R and B, Tin Pan Alley, Brill Building pop-this feels almost like gospel, but more like she took gospel and made it her own. This is a record that might have fit right in during the 90’s with Tori Amos, Sarah McLaughlin, Alanis Morissette. Yes, very traditional, but just as introspective. Nyro could have been a Lillith Fair participant.
I’ve listened to lots of albums the last year or so and some have really surprised me-lots have not. Jorma Kaukonen’s Quah, The Smithereens Especially for You, and Joan Jett’s Unvarnished are a few of the albums that really got my attention, records I didn’t know that turned my head. New York Tendaberry is another. In fact my cheap copy, full of pops will soon be replaced by a much better one that shows off Nyro’s remarkable performance.