Laura Nyro: A Little Magic, A Little Kindness - The Complete Mono Albums
Nyro herself was known to prefer the mono versions that would sound good on a cheap radio, so this does honor her spirit.
The song most responsible for Barbra Streisand’s crossover from Broadway belter to pop star was her 1970 top ten hit, “Stoney End”, one of three Laura Nyro compositions included on Streisand’s album Stoney End. More than 30 years later, Babs admitted to an audience that she had no idea what the song “Stoney End” was about. She almost didn’t record the track because of worry the opening lyrics would upset religious listeners.
I was born from love
And my poor mother worked the mines
I was raised on the Good Book Jesus
Till I read between the lines
Now I don't believe
To give Babs a break, the lyrics are a bit obtuse, if in an artful way. The song tells the story of a woman who has spent the night with a man whose sexual passion she mistook for love. He’s left her, and now she feels guilty. She yearns for the comfort of her mother and to be able to start over. The “Stoney End” may refer to the Biblical punishment for sex out of wedlock, maybe a return to the mines of her mother, or perhaps a death from drugs that she now uses to end her pain and fury. Or it may just be a metaphor for the rocky road she will now have to travel as an unwed mother herself. Whatever. But if the line about Jesus upset Barbara, what would she have thought of the censored version issued as a single.
I was born from love
And I was raised on golden rules
Till the love of a winsome Johnny
Taught me love was made for fools
Now I don't believe
This may have been considered safer as the reference to Jesus was left out, but it’s more improper. Allusions to interpreting the Bible in self-serving ways had long been a staple in popular culture (think of the Gershwins’ “It Ain’t Necessarily So” from Porgy and Bess as an example). It’s hard to understand why this would be considered scandalous. Nyro’s censored single versions suggests she was tricked by love into having sex and has become jaded as result; there, it is much more crude. The Shirelles may have asked “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” Nyro provided the answered to the question, and the answer was “No.”
Real Gone Music’s new release of Laura Nyro’s A Little Magic, A Little Kindness—the Complete Mono Albums includes the censored version of “Stoney End”, along with the single mix of “Eli’s Coming” and the Bones Howe pop production of “Save the Country”, also released as bonuses. But as the compilation’s name implies this anthology is about full-length records, in particular Nyro’s first two albums More Than A New Discovery (1967) and Eli and the Thirteenth Confession (1968). These contain some of her best-known songs including “Wedding Bell Blues”, “Stoned Soul Picnic”, “And When I Die”, “Eli’s Coming”, and the uncensored version of “Stoney End”.
Nyro herself was known to prefer the mono versions that would sound good on a cheap radio, so this does honor her spirit. The material on these records has been available on compact discs for years, but only in stereo and in the case of More Than a New Discovery, not in the original sequence. Critics consider these two albums classics, and many artists as diverse as Joni Mitchell, Elton John, Tori Amos, Lucinda Williams, Todd Rundgren, and Steely Dan have cited her as a major influence on their work. If one does not already own these records, one should immediately go out and get them -- and this mono repackaging has a splendid sound quality as well as those three sides not originally released on her albums.
However, if one does already have this material, the restoration to mono and sequencing are not particularly notable. Don’t get me wrong, the mono sounds great. The sonics are rich and deep -- so when Nyro croons a phrase like “everybody know-ow-ows” from “Lonely Women”, one can hear every emotional utterance before the silence hits. Nyro fanatics, and there are many, should purchase the new release for this reason -- which is a bit of a paradox. Nyro preferred the mono versions of their songs because they sounded good on cheap equipment; today’s listeners might prefer it because they sound better than the stereo mixes on sophisticated audio players.
As for the restored sequencing of More Than a New Discovery, the original does flow better than its reissue. The swinging “Goodbye Joe” that opens the first version purposely disoriented the listener (starting an album with a song that says “goodbye”). The reissue led with “Wedding Bell Blues”, which was a hit by the 5th Dimension and recognizable to those who might have been unfamiliar with Nyro. However, this never was a true concept album as much as a collection of songs. As such, the reinstated sequencing is nice but not essential.
Nyro’s music still stands strong 50 years first being released. This new repackaging brings it into the present in all its auditory glory. The gospel inspired Nyro would certainly shout, “Hallelujah!”