Laura Nyro “Eli and the Thirteenth Confession”

Today’s Cool Album of the Day (#529 in the Series) is Laura Nyro,  Eli and the Thirteenth Confession

Laura Nyro is Randy Newman without the Disney movie soundtracks. Known more for the songs she has written for other people that have gone on to become monster hits than her own releases, her musical output rivals only Carole King as one of the greatest singer song -writers of her generation and a hit-making machine.  A partial list of Laura Nyro penned hits includes “Stoney End” for Barbra Streisand, “Eli’s Coming” for Three Dog Night, “Wedding Bell Blues” for The Fifth Dimension, and the fantastic “And When I Die”, that became a monster hit for Blood Sweat and Tears.

The real talent that Laura had that was unmatched by her peers was to combine her unique vocal styling with intricate, haunting arrangements that included elements of Jazz, classical, pop, rock, soul, and rhythm and blues.  The start-stop tempo changes in her songs heavily influenced the songwriting of Elton John in the embryonic stages of his career so much that, as he told Elvis Costello in his “Spectacles with Elvis Costello” episode, that his song, “Burn Down The Mission” from Tumbleweed Connection was heavily influenced by the start top signature timing made famous by Laura Nyro.  Give his song a critical listen and see if you don’t agree.

Eli and the Thirteenth Confession, released in 1968 was by no means a critical success, barely squeezing into the top 200 billboard list at number 182 which shows that as times change things stay the same as this is one of the thousands of examples of an artist that was criminally ignored by the charts.

Audiences had a hard time slotting this eclectic singer as well as she was roundly booed and otherwise ignored after her appearance at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival.  Her idiosyncratic style was not lost on David Geffen however, as a fledgling music manager at the time he quit his job to manage Laura and land her a contract at Columbia records.  

(EDITORS NOTE: See the comment below, a video has surface that according to the writer says that she was not booed at Monterey. )

Nowhere is her stop-start tempo changing style more in evident than on the first song “Luckie” that starts off with vocals and some bombastic horns as it just as fast comes to a complete halt and veers off into some scat type singing and more horns that build up to a Blood Seat and Tears crescendo.  At first listen this song and entire album must have been a huge influence on Carole King’s monster album Tapestry as the song structures seem to share the same DNA, perhaps they were both influenced by the magic of “The Brill Building”.

The second cut is L.U. and sounds similar in style with a few less tempo roller coaster changes, only three or four instead of 7 or 8.

The version of “Eli’s Coming” on this album is something special.  Laura’s singing seems more passionate on this song than some of the others on this set and her vocal delivery more than holds its own when compared to the Danny Hutton vocal on the Three Dog Night version.  I would sell my soul to Robert Johnson to hear the two of them collabo on this song.  The start stop here when Laura stops on a dime and then starts to slowly and seductively ramp up her moan singing “Eli’s comin’ better hide your heart” several times in succession until you are ready to give up and turn your heart over to the beautiful songstress, is fantastic.

“Woman’s Blues” is another strong sultry ballad style number that starts in a sort of lull then jumps into “Brill Building” excellence. This is a jazzy masterpiece of a tune with some good soul sister yowls thrown in for good measure.

“Stone Soul Picnic” is nothing short of a classic and is THE ONLY version your ears should ever need to have the pleasure of experiencing. This one song encapsulates this wonderful eclectic performer more than any other. If someone wants to know what Laura Nyro is all about just listen to this song.  It is all here, the tempo changes, her vocals keeping beautiful pace all the way, the pastoral lyrics, the charm, the sexiness, all together in 3:46 of sublime ecstasy.

Under-heard and under-appreciated, it almost seemed as if she wanted it that way.  In her minds-eye the legacy she was leaving was better told in the hands and voices of some of the greatest artists of her or any other time.

Three years after releasing this album, in 1971, Laura Nero “retired” from the music business at age 24 only to return for a brief time in 1984 and again in 1993 with “Walk the Dog & Light the Light” which turned out to be her last release as she passed away from ovarian cancer in 1997 at age 50.

Do you yourself a favor, buy, burn, or steal this album.

You, just like Sir Elton will also become one of her biggest fans.

— Walt Falconer

(Editors Note: Make sure you check out the video playlists belelow.. besides having Laura’s album, we have a bonus video playlist of Laura’s songs that were hits for others. They include Barbara Streisand, The 5th Dimension, Blood, Sweat and Tears and a wild Three Dog Night Video!)

Track listing

All songs written by Laura Nyro.

  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
  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

  • Laura Nyro – piano, vocal, harmonies
  • Ralph Casale and Chet Amsterdam – acoustic guitar
  • Hugh McCracken – electric guitar
  • Chuck Rainey and Chet Amsterdam – bass
  • Artie Schroeck – drums, vibes
  • Buddy Saltzman – drums
  • Dave Carey – percussion
  • Bernie Glow, Pat Calello and Ernie Royal – trumpet
  • George Young and Zoot Sims – saxophone
  • Wayne Andre, Jimmy Cleveland and Ray DeSio – trombone
  • Joe Farrell – saxophone, flute
  • Paul Griffin – piano on “Eli’s Comin'” and “Once It Was Alright Now (Farmer Joe)”

Links

BONUS VIDEOS: See some of the hits that others had with Laura’s songs. 

Posted by Larry Carta

1 Comment

  1. Artamus (26 Dec 2011, 16:47)
    Reply

    Thank you very much for spotlighting this great album. I couldn’t agree more with your assessment that Laura’s original version of “Stoned soul picnic” is the only version you need to hear. I like the 5th Dimension quite a lot, love their version of Jimmy Webb’s “Up, up and away”, but on “Stoned soul picnic” they just can’t compete with the heart and soul that Laura packs into it!
    (The same thing holds true for ALL the covers of her songs in my opinion- why did the radio programmers choose to play watered down imitations, instead of the awesome originals!?)

    There are a couple of things I’d like to clear up: 1) “Eli” was in fact a critical success, many critics liked it, but it didn’t chart very high, because Laura’s originals had no radio support. All most of the general public knew were the cover versions that got heavy rotation. (She did collect a bundle in royalties, so I guess that’s a nice consolation prize.) The album stayed in the top 200 for years though, selling slowly, but steadily, as word of mouth brought more fans for Laura on board.

    2)The “Roundly booed” thing never actually happened. That myth was widely reported for many years, and because Laura’s footage from the Monterey pop festival was not in the original release of the film, no one, including Laura herself, disputed it. But it is now available to see on DVD, Blu-ray, and youtube, watch and listen, and you will hear that after Laura’s performance, not only is there absolutely no booing, but someone calls out “Beautiful!”, twice, VERY clearly. Laura was invited to see the footage, and learn the truth for herself, when they were getting ready to re release the film, but sadly, she was battling cancer, and didn’t live long enough to get to see it. I hope you’ll please consider removing that part of the article in respect for her.

    3)Laura returned to recording and touring before 1984. In 1976, she released the album “Smile”, followed by “Nested” in 1978, as well as a live album “Seasons of light”. She continued to tour right up until she was diagnosed with cancer, and even after that, she was still recording songs that eventually went on on her final album, the posthumously released “Angel in the dark”.

    Any way, I really enjoyed your great write up, and please don’t think I’m nitpicking, it’s just that I Love Laura Nyro a lot, she is my all time favorite Artist, and I want to make sure people get the story straight, especially about her Monterey performance. It’s one of the very few filmed performances of her that still exist, and I hate to think of this rare treasure being marred by a silly myth that never had any basis in fact.

    Thanks again for a helping to keep Laura’s Musical legacy going strong!



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