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Posts tagged ‘Laura Nyro’

Fifty Year Friday: Eli and the Thirteenth Confession

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“I’m not interested in conventional limitations when it comes to my songwriting” — Laura Nyro (Liner Notes to Stoned Soul Picnic: The Best of Laura Nyro <1997>)

Eli and the Thirteenth Confession, the second album of Lauro Nyro, released March 3, 1968, was as distinct as any album of 1968, eschewing formula-based songs and enriched with personal, intimate lyrics fitted into soulful, boundary-free music.  Here the music is first: this is not a work of a singer-songwriter that set poetry to music, but a musician, who wrote music that was poetry.  The words may not qualify for any Nobel prizes, but they melodically fit into the contour of the music more perfectly and naturally than that of any 1960’s pop, folk or rock singer-songwriter before her. This music flows naturally, sometimes with effortlessly applied tempo shifts and alterations, and at no point do the lyrics ever get in the way of the musical content, but instead, either get unconditionally absorbed or are truly music themselves.

And in the midst of an era (1967-1968) of some of the most creative and unconventional, but commercially successful music ever captured in recording studios, we have an album of music that is as fiercely independent as anything by Frank Zappa, Harry Nilsson, Van Dyke Parks, Al Kooper, Velvet Underground, The Doors, or The Jefferson Airplane.

This album, though, was not a notable commercial success, reaching no further than the 181st position (“181” is not a typo) on the Billboard pop album chart. Yet, the reach was there in influencing other singer-songwriters that were to make their own impacts shortly after this, or even much later, including Todd Rundgren, Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Elton John, Kate Bush, Melissa Manchester, Joanna Newsome, Tori Amos. and many, many more.  In fact, so influential is this album, that listening to it today, it sounds more like a product of the early 1970s than just about any rock, pop, or folk album that I can think of that was recorded and released in 1968.  (Please challenge me in the comments, if you feel otherwise.)

Listening to this work on Youtube or via a streaming service, undercuts the high production and sound quality.  Best to listen to this in LP, CD or SACD format. A CD of Eli and the Thirteenth Confession with three bonus tracks is available at online retailers for around $5.00, a bargain difficult to pass up.  However, if you can find a copy of the Audio Fidelity SACD release, that is the one to get, as the sound is exceptional.

On a personal note, I prefer Laura Nyro’s original renditions over any covers of her works I have heard through the years. It’s great that her songs received greater airplay and were exposed to a larger audience, with the accompanying economic benefits for the composer, but aren’t the originals more complete and satisfying?  In this original version of “Eli’s Coming” we get no hint of the darker nature inherent in the lyrics (Eli representing something beyond just a heartthrob or hearbreaker, but perhaps, heartache, loss, disappointment, or defeat) — instead we get gospel-hysteria celebration, not of the coming of Christ, but of the coming of Eli, that one guy that is currently everything and unquestionably inspires both submission and devotion.

And how can one not marvel at Nyro’s vocal delivery, her effective melodic range, extensive tone-color range, and finely-varied emotional range?  As a singer-songwriter, she excels at both the songwriting and singing roles.

And on a more important personal note, my thoughts go to anyone at war with cancer or the families that have suffered a loss from cancer.  I have a friend whose sister was overtaken by ovarian cancer, the same insidious disease that ended the life of both Laura Nyro and her mother at the age of 49. As I type this, my thoughts are with my friend and her family. Medicine is making substantial progress against various forms of cancer, and we all hope we see more progress made more rapidly than ever. Having a healthy lifestyle may reduce the risk of some or even all types of cancer, but it does not eliminate that risk.  Please consider joining me in making a donation to the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund (90% of your donation is directed to scientific research) or another worthy  organization, such as the Cancer Research Institute whose funding assisted in the development of  the HPV vaccine, which can help prevent some types of cervical cancer.

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Track Listing [from Wikipedia]

All tracks written by Laura Nyro.

Side one

No.

Title

Length

1. “Luckie” 3:00
2. “Lu” 2:44
3. Sweet Blindness 2:37
4. “Poverty Train” 4:16
5. “Lonely Women” 3:32
6. Eli’s Comin’ 3:58

Side two

No.

Title

Length

7. “Timer” 3:22
8. Stoned Soul Picnic 3:47
9. “Emmie” 4:20
10. “Woman’s Blues” 3:46
11. “Once It Was Alright Now (Farmer Joe)” 2:58
12. “December’s Boudoir” 5:05
13. “The Confession” 2:50

Personnel

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Fifty Year Friday: Singer/Songwriters; Additional Groups and Artists

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Singer/Songwriters

2017 is soon coming to a close, and so must our fifty year anniversary reflection on 1967.  If we had started these posts earlier in 1967, instead of starting mid-year, we could have highlighted many more albums.  Those we chose were personal favorites. Some of those not included are also worth noting.

1967 provide of wealth of albums by singer songwriters from Arlo Guthrie and his  captivating “Alice’s Restaurant” album to Van Dyke Parks first album, “Song Cycle.”

Warner Brothers Records hired Van Dyke Parks with high hopes based on his previous work with Harper’s Bizarre, The Byrds, Tim Buckley, and Paul Revere & the Raiders, and then spared no costs for Parks to record his album — racking up session hours and using a full orchestra.  When “Song Cycle” was played for the president of Warner Bros. Records, his reaction was apparent confusion: “Song Cycle?  Okay — where are the songs, then?” The label didn’t release the album until December 1967, a year after it was recorded, until, as the story goes, Jac Holzman of Elektra records offered to buy if from Warner Bros.   Once released, it’s sales where less than expected, and prompted Warner Bros.  to run full page newspaper and magazine advertisements that said they “lost $35,509 on ‘the album of the year’ (dammit)” and offered owners of the album the chance to send in their worn-out LPs of “Song Cycle” in exchange for two new copies, so one could be passed on to a friend.

Harry Nilsson authors his second album, Pandemonium Shadow Show, originally intended to be titled after Ray Bradbury’s “Something Wicked This Way Comes”, which is a mix of Nilsson songs and several covers including two Lennon/McCartney songs. Nilsson’s droll lyrics and musical arrangements provide character to a well-executed and produced album.  The album includes the definitive version of Nilsson’s “Without Her”, sparsely arranged with flute, electric bass, strummed guitar and cello. The album fared better in Canada then in the US, eventually catching the attention of  Beatles publicist Derek Taylor who sent copies to the Beatles.  Purportedly, John Lennon listened to the album over and over again, playing it back to back for a total of 36 consecutive hours.

1967 provided the release of two Bob Dylan albums, Dylan’s eighth studio album “John Wesley Harding”, an album filled with songs that appear were written first as poetry and then Dylan added music to them, and a greatest hits album compiling classic Dylan songs from his first seven albums.  For many of us, born between 1954 and 1960  this was our first exposure to Dylan besides what was played on AM radio.

Also for many of us born in that mid to late fifties time frame, the great North American singer songwriter of our time was not American Bob Dylan, but Canadian Roberta Joan “Joni” Mitchell.  At this time, Joni had not recorded an album but, after moving to the U.S. and performing in various clubs, was gaining attention from these performances and in several of her songs that more established artists recorded.

The most notable 1967 Joni Mitchell song, was recorded by Judy Collins on her 1967 album Wildflowers album (released in 1968.)  This song, “Both Sides Now”, would reach #8 on the U.S. pop singles, making it Judy Collins biggest hit and being the most contributing fact to the Wildflowers album peaking at the number 5 best selling album on December 1968.

Laura Nyro  released her debut album,  More Than a New Discovery Recorded in 1966, initially released in 1967, and then reissued in 1969 and again in 1973, this album showcases Nyro’s songwriting skill and versatility with many of the songs being covered by other artists, including “And When I Die” (Blood Sweat and Tears), Wedding Bell Blues” and “Blowin’ Away” (The Fifth Dimension), and “Stoney End” (Barbara Streisand.)

Recorded in 1966 and early 1967 the Deram label releases Cat Stevens’ first album,  Matthew and Son The album makes the UK Top 10, and has several successful singles. Later that year,  Stevens records New Masters which is released in December 1967, and sells significantly less copies than the first album.

Also in 1967, Tim Buckley released his second album, his most popular and generally most acclaimed album, Goodbye and Hello.   Tim Hardin released his second album,  simply titled Tim Hardin 2.  Leonard Cohen’s releases his first album, the captivating and engaging Songs of Leonard Cohen, after Judy Collins’ recording of his song “Suzanne” brought Cohen to the attention of legendary record producer  John Hammond. Cohen’s debut album begins with “Suzanne” and includes several fairly profound songs like “The Stranger Song”, “Sisters of Mercy”, and “Stories of the Street” as well as the well known “So Long, Marianne” referencing his close companion, Marianne Ihlen.

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Additional Notable Albums of 1967

The Beach Boys release two excellent albums, Smiley Smile and Wild Honey.  

Pretty Things releases their distinctly interesting, and accessible “Emotions” album, full of life and musical vibrancy with brass instruments adding further energy. Recorded in late 1966, and early 1967, it did not sell well, perhaps this was a result of ineffective distribution or marketing or perhaps the album was a bit ahead of its time, sounding more like it was recorded in 1968 or early 1969.

The first album of what many consider the first rock supergroup, Cream, sets the stage for later heavy rock bands (and by extension, heavy metal bands) with their second album, Disraeli Gears. Though there were many influences that spawned hard rock and heavy metal, Cream had a significant impact on many such younger rock musicians.

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Art (Art essential being an earlier formation of the group, Spooky Tooth), infuses rivulets of blues and wisps of psychedelia into their only album, Supernatural Fairy Tales  creating a thick-textured album, perfumed with an aroma of cannabis. Earlier to the recording of this album, several of the same musicians under the name “Hapshash and the Coloured Coat”  recorded an album earlier in 1967, titled “Featuring The Human Host And The Heavy Metal Kids” — this being, as far as I can tell, the first reference to “heavy metal.”

Other notable albums, many heavily psychedelic (and some incorporating elements of free jazz) were released by groups such as 13th Floor Elevators, The Aggregation, Ten Years After, AMM, Chocolate Watchband, Clear Light, Country Joe and the Fish, The Grateful Dead, Kaleidoscope, Mesmerizing Eye, Moby Grape, Orbital, Pearls Before Swine, Red Krayola (The Parable of Arable Land), Rupert’s People, Sagittarius, The Seeds, Sly and the Family Stone, Sopwith Camel, Spontaneous Music Ensemble, Steppeulvene, Strawberry Alarm Clock, The Animals, The Beethoven Soul, The Box, The Ceyleib People, The Easybeats, The Factory, The Fire Escape, The Freak Scene, The Incredible String Band, The Lefte Bank, The Motions, The Serpent Power, The Smoke, Smoky Robinson and the Miracles, The Turtles (Happy Together), The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, The Yardbirds, Thomas Edisun’s Electric Light Bulb Band, Vanilla Fudge, and various more accessible or highly commercial groups like The Association, The Grass Roots, The Ventures, The Monkees (put together for a U.S. television series), and The Young Rascals.

This only scratches the surface.  I have not mentioned artists like Albert King (Born Under a Bad Sign), Nina Simone, Miles Davis, John Coltrane (Expression), Sam Rivers, Charles Tyler (Eastern Man Alone), Bill Dixon, Blue Mitchell, Freddie Hubbard, Gary Burton, Graham Collier, Herbie Mann, Roland Kirk, Marvin Gaye, Magic Sam, Otis Spann,  John Mayall, Miriam Makeba, Van Morrison, Stevie Wonder, Buddy Tate, and many others, some of which I have covered in previous “Fifty Year Friday” posts: there are a number of incredible jazz albums as well as blues, rhythm and blues, and soul music albums.

Though the term progressive rock is more formerly applied to many of the more adventurous and classically influenced bands of the early 1970s, for my money 1967 was the childhood of progressive rock with the birth perhaps occurring in 1966 with Beach Boys Pet Sounds, the Beatles’ Revolver and many psychedelia-tinged albums released in 1967, but recorded at the end of 1966. I challenge anyone to deny the progressiveness of Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, Procol Harum, Van Dyke Parks, or even groups like The Who, The Beach Boys, or The Doors.

This was a vital period in the expansion and diversification of rock music, the like of which has not been seen since.  Fortunately for us, even albums that were nearly impossible to get a hold of in 1967 are now relatively readily available, not only on CD, or in some cases freshly, pressed LPs, but also available through streaming services or on Youtube.

Most importantly, have a happy and fulfilling 2018, and don’t neglect to broadly explore the immensity of great music available to those of us alive today.

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Previous Fifty Year Friday Posts for the year 1967:

The Beatles: Sgt Peppers

The Beatles: Magical Mystery Tour

Jimi Hendrix: Are you Experienced

Jimi Hendrix: Axis: Bold as Love

The Who: The Who Sell Out

Moody Blues: Days of  Future Passed

Byrds, Hollies and Buffalo Springfield

Love “Forever Changes”

Far Out 1967, Part One

Far Out 1967, Part Two

Nirvana “The Story of Simon Simopath; The Kinks “Something Else”

Dizzy Gillespie in 1967

Larry Young “Contrasts”; Joe Zawinul, “The Rise and Fall of the Third Stream”

Procol Harum “Procol Harum and The Doors “Strange Days”

Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington

Arthur Rubinstein, Pink Floyd

Marta Argerich and Carlos Paredes

David Bowie, Marc Bolan, John’s Children

John Coltrane, Jefferson Airplane

Thelonious Monk, McCoy Tyner

Hindustani Classical Music

The Doors: The Doors

The Velvet Underground

Aretha Franklin, Simon Dupree and the Big Sound

Mahler recordings

Rolling Stones: Between The Buttons

Jobim, Zappa, Beefheart

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