Laura Nyro – Eli and the Thirteenth Confession
Praised and revered from Jenny Lewis to Barry Manilow, claimed to be one of Alice Cooper’s favourite songwriters and even sampled by Kanye West, Laura Nyro is one of those enigmatic figures that is loved by many but not often talked about.
Maybe this is because Laura Nyro doesn’t sound like a grand epic with influence over so many genres; despite careful and intricate arrangements that sweep through the blues, jazz, pop, gospel, what stands out most is her voice. For all the beauty of the music and wide range of instruments, you get the impression that Eli and the Thirteenth Confession could be played entirely as just Laura and piano and not lose any of its magic. Laura Nyro is all soul, enough to propel herself and her music from 1968 into this far distant future of 2010 and still be exciting.
That’s not to say the album hasn’t dated, but that is one of the things that is most to be loved about it: Stoned Soul Picnic and Sweet Blindness in particular – “please don’t tell mother, I’m a saloon and moonshine lover” – ring of a time young people today will never know but has been gradually rose-tinted in public memory as a decade of hazy summer days, intoxicated free love, spirituality and permanent youth. Nevermind that this is all imagination and nostalgia, if you want a little escapism then this is the perfect album.
Eli bursts into life with “Yes I’m ready, so come on Luckie!”, before immediately relaxing back into a rhythmic blues beat, swiftly mixing genre styles in the first 30 seconds. The album continues with unrelenting vibrancy and covers religion, romance, loneliness, society, drinking your parents’ alcohol – throughout, it can varyingly make you either want to clap your hands and sing along in falsetto, or sit in a dark room crying into an empty wine glass. Although clever and energetic it is understated; Nyro shyed away from celebrity status, and even with the acclaim Eli and the Thirteenth Confession attracted it never became a ‘hit’.
Overall, the then 21 year old Nyro’s second album has a unique personal feel to it, perhaps because of the prominence of her voice and the young and poetic nature of her lyrics. The closest comparison I can make is the darker and less hippychick Fiona Apple, or with regards to vocal style you can see future echoes of the likes of Kate Bush.
Eli and the Thirteenth Confession is one of those albums that gets more enjoyable over time, and can sit neglected on your shelf for months until you remember to listen again and it sounds better than the first time. As one of the major female musical influences across a variety of genres, Laura Nyro should be listened to and remembered by everyone.