Fifty Year Friday: Eli and the Thirteenth Confession
“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.
Track Listing [from Wikipedia]
All tracks written by Laura Nyro.
|8.||“Stoned Soul Picnic“||3:47|
|11.||“Once It Was Alright Now (Farmer Joe)”||2:58|
- Laura Nyro – piano, vocal, harmonies
- Ralph Casale, Chet Amsterdam – acoustic guitar
- Hugh McCracken – electric guitar
- Chuck Rainey, Chet Amsterdam – bass
- Artie Schroeck – drums, vibes
- Buddy Saltzman – drums
- Dave Carey – percussion
- Bernie Glow, Pat Calello, Ernie Royal – trumpet
- George Young, Zoot Sims – saxophone
- Wayne Andre, Jimmy Cleveland, Ray DeSio – trombone
- Joe Farrell – saxophone, flute
- Paul Griffin – piano on “Eli’s Comin'” and “Once It Was Alright Now (Farmer Joe)”