Audio Fidelity has recently become a home for rare quadraphonic recordings on SACD, and among the label's future offerings is a true classic from Laura Nyro in its immersive quad mix: 1968's Eli and the Thirteenth Confession. Later this month, on June 24, the label will offer Eli on hybrid SACD (playable on all CD players) with the original stereo mix newly remastered by Steve Hoffman in high-resolution stereo and standard CD formats, and the rare 4.0 quad surround mix in high resolution.
Nyro's Verve debut More Than a New Discovery had more than its share of fans. Among them was an up-and-coming manager named David Geffen. With the Asylum label still in his future, Geffen signed Nyro and gained her a Columbia recording contract. Around the same time, she shared the stage with the likes of Jimi Hendrix and The Who as an act at the Monterey Pop Festival. Nyro reportedly was flummoxed by the house band's inability to play her complex music (with shifting time signatures and unexpected chord progressions) and cut her set short. But this would be a footnote in Nyro's career, and when footage of the festival was unearthed years later, it was clear that Nyro herself didn't sound bad at all; with a stronger band or even performing a solo piano set, she might have become one of the hits of the festival. With Geffen and arranger/producer Charlie Calello (of Four Seasons fame) on board, the 21-year old artist embarked on the creation of what may remain her masterwork, Eli and the Thirteenth Confession.
When Barry Manilow selected a list of his favorite music, this often-ravishing album was on top of the list: "It rocked my world. Everything about it broke every rule I was taught. Tremendously original and edge-of-your-seat exciting." Manilow's description is apt. Calello enhanced the small combo sound of Nyro's first LP with big brass and exciting backup voices, with the songs of course anchored by Nyro's joyous piano. Her early signature sound is crystallized here, a piano-driven bounce, and the hits again were out in full-force...when later covered by other artists. Eli introduced "Sweet Blindness" and "Stoned Soul Picnic," both of which The Fifth Dimension made their own, and "Eli's Comin'," which was a smash for Three Dog Night. The sensual "Emmie" would be covered by Frankie Valli as "Emily." It wasn't easy to pigeonhole Eli, which may have accounted for its lack of chart success.
"Stoned Soul Picnic" and "Sweet Blindness" married infectious melodies to earthy lyrics (both name-checking moonshine) while religious imagery informed the raw "Poverty Train" and "Woman's Blues." The mini-suite approach was revived for "Once It Was Alright Now (Farmer Joe)" which abandoned traditional song structure, and Nyro pushed the lyrical envelope with the frank, open sexuality of "The Confession." In short, the stunningly original Eli announced that a major, singular talent was here to stay. The distinctive quadraphonic mix of Eli is discrete and immersive, bringing out added dimension and details in Calello's orchestrations. (An incomplete quadraphonic mix of the album has circulated with some alternate takes; it's understood that AF has naturally utilized the masters for the complete version.)
You can hear Eli and the Thirteenth Confession anew on hybrid SACD on June 24. A few weeks later, on July 15, Audio Fidelity will issue a multichannel hybrid SACD of Loggins and Messina's 1973 Full Sail. In the meantime, Eli can be pre-ordered at the links below!
Laura Nyro, Eli and the Thirteenth Confession Hybrid SACD (Columbia CS 9626 (Stereo), 1968 - reissued Audio Fidelity AFZ5 237, 2016) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada)
Program in 2.0 Stereo and 4.0 Multichannel:
- Sweet Blindness
- Poverty Train
- Lonely Women
- Eli's Comin'
- Stoned Soul Picnic
- Woman's Blues
- Once It Was Alright Now (Farmer Joe)
- December's Boudoir
- The Confession
Doug Carey says
Regarding the Monterey Pop Festival's house band's "inability to play" Laura's complex music, I believe the core band consisted of Joe Osborn (Bass), Hal Blaine (Drums) and Larry Knechtel (Keyboards). These guys were members of the Wrecking Crew and entirely capable of playing complex music. Don't get me wrong, I love Laura's music. But, I find it hard to believe that these studio cats were incapable of playing the music. Depending on who you want to believe, the other side of this story (that I heard from one of the above players) was that Laura was the one who blew here part/cue to the musicians and that she blamed them.
Who knows what the actual truth is...
Joe Marchese says
Absolutely, Doug. And those Wrecking Crew vets were, of course, more than capable of sight-reading quickly and (to truly understate here) competently. I suspect that Laura's perfectionism may have led her to be less than thrilled with the results, although she later said that she loved the experience and sensed its historic significance despite the chilly reaction many said she was accorded. Laura's late biographer Michele Kort quoted Hal Blaine as citing a lack of sufficient rehearsal; Kort also points out that Nyro wasn't leading the band at the piano but rather singing at the microphone. Who knows, indeed...I do feel she comes across well in the Monterey Pop footage.
Mark Sawyer says
This is thrilling news. I was sorry Colombia / Legacy's upgraded editions of 2002 (Eli; Tendaberry; Miracle) began and ended there.
There is a different story about Monterey Pop told in this British radio program about Laura Nyro. It is hosted by Bette Midler -- You can listen here --