Laura Nyro's 1966 debut album on Verve Records proclaimed the young singer-songwriter to be More Than a New Discovery, and the title wasn't mere hyperbole. After all, the album introduced one chart-topper for The 5th Dimension, a Top 5 smash for Blood, Sweat and Tears, and a Top 10 hit for Barbra Streisand among its twelve songs. How to top New Discovery? Nyro's major-label debut at Columbia Records, 1968's Eli and the Thirteenth Confession, did just that, as one of the most strikingly original, finely-wrought offerings of the 1960s. Now, Eli and its equally powerful follow-up, New York Tendaberry, have been reissued on deluxe 180-gram vinyl in beautiful new stereo editions from Analog Spark.
Columbia's "360 Sound" explodes from the grooves of this pristine vinyl LP from the effervescent cry of "Yes, I'm ready!" that opens the albums' first track, "Luckie." Arranger and Laura's co-producer Charlie Calello (of Four Seasons fame) enhanced the small combo sound of her first LP with big brass and exciting backup voices, with the songs of course anchored by her joyous playing on the keys. (Both albums were credited on the labels to Laura Nyro (Accompanying Herself on Piano).) All of these elements are heard with crisp detail on Analog Spark's reissue. Nyro's signature piano-driven bounce crystallized on Eli, 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 5th Dimension made their own, and "Eli's Comin'," which was a smash for Three Dog Night. The yearningly sensual "Emmie" would be covered by Frankie Valli as "Emily." It wasn't easy to pigeonhole Eli, and its soulful tales of enigmatic lovers, lonely women, and forbidden desires, all sung in Laura's breathy tone and distinctive timbre.
Both "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." God is referenced in the latter, while the Devil appears in the former as well as in "Luckie." On "Once It Was Alright Now (Farmer Joe)," Nyro eschewed traditional song structure, and she 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, and this reissue does the stereo album full justice. Analog Spark has happily recreated the original lyric insert with deluxe paper stock, minus the perfume smell of the original sheets! The inclusion of the lyrics makes it all the easier to savor the intricate wordplay whether via puns ("It's a real good day to go get Luckie...") or poignant truths (the "Lonely Women" that "everybody knows...but no one knows").
New York had been an integral part of the Bronx-born Nyro's style, and the city's influence - chaotic, bustling, and diverse - was palpably felt on her third album, 1969's New York Tendaberry. Roy Halee joined the team as producer and engineer largely because Nyro admired his work with fellow New Yorkers Simon and Garfunkel; studio vet Jimmie Haskell replaced Charlie Calello as orchestral arranger and conductor. But prior to the recording of Tendaberry, Nyro attempted to get a slice of the AM radio action for herself. In 1968, she had joined The 5th Dimension's producer Bones Howe for a single of "Save the Country," which that group would later tackle to No. 27 pop success. Nyro's single version, with full-on Howe production, didn't chart, though. The singer must have been disappointed that Eli only reached No. 181 on Billboard's album chart despite The 5th Dimension having two Top 20 singles derived from it.
So it was back to the drawing board with Tendaberry, again packed with richly poetic, personal songs of love, loneliness, and larger-than-life characters. It featured a longer, less overtly commercial take on the timely "Save the Country" (an early politically-minded Nyro song, albeit with typical earth-mother imagery: "Come on people, come on children/Come on down to the glory river") and another Barbra Streisand-hit-to-be, the jaunty "Time and Love." Other highlights include the wild, wickedly vengeful kiss-off "Tom Cat Goodby" (returning to the favorite theme of a ne'er-do-well lover), and the epic, lyrically impressionistic "Captain Saint Lucifer." On Tendaberry, Nyro continued to expand the boundaries of traditional pop structure with such unconventional compositions like "Sweet Lovin' Baby" and "Mercy on Broadway." Both incorporate blues, soul, jazz, gospel and pure harmony-pop but despite the stylistic shifts, still sound seamless.
On the whole, though, Tendaberry was darker than its predecessor, and less accessible. (But if you ever wanted to hear what Laura fronting Blood, Sweat and Tears might sound like - and indeed, she was once mooted for that position - just listen to the furious horns on "Gibsom Street.") It was deeply soulful and moody; in short, a soundtrack to a city in flux. With songs like "The Man Who Sends Me Home," Nyro typified the confessional singer-songwriter, before the term was in vogue. The passionate and deeply-felt Tendaberry reached No. 32 on the Billboard chart, shockingly Nyro's only Top 40 album.
As with Eli, lyrics are included with New York Tendaberry - in this case, as a replica of the original foldout booklet. Both LPs (featuring original Columbia replica labels) have been remastered from the original tapes by Ryan Smith at Sterling Sound and are housed in inner protective sleeves within the sturdy Stoughton tip-on jackets. These two remarkable albums remain cornerstones of Nyro's singular oeuvre. They shine anew in Analog Spark's handsomely recreated, sonically superior vinyl pressings. Indeed, nothing cures like time and love.