Music

Always the Bridesmaid? Laura Nyro's Debut Is Ready For Reappraisal

An album full of hits for other people, Laura Nyro's More Than a New Discovery showcases the artist behind the songs.

More Than a New Discovery
Laura Nyro

Real Gone Music

7 February 2020

Every day's a school day. As it turns out, I've been mispronouncing Laura Nyro's name wrong, for as long as I've heard of Laura Nyro. According to the liner notes of the 2020 reissue of her debut album More Than a New Discovery, writer Joe Marchese reveals that it should be pronounced near-oh as opposed to nigh-ro. Who knew? Was it everyone but me?

Originally released in 1967 – modern pop music's year zero – More Than a New Discovery failed to make the splash it was intended to make. Instead, it served as a glorified demo tape for New Yorker Nyro's, startlingly mature songwriting. Listening now to the 12 songs, squeezed into this 35-minute collection, it's hard to believe that she was all of 19 years old when she recorded them. What were you doing when you were 19? Probably not making a record, produced by Harry Belafonte's pianist.

If you owned a radio in the 1970s, you've heard "Stoney End", as sung by Barbra Streisand. Or Diana Ross. Or Linda Ronstadt. You may not have heard it by the writer, which is a shame, as Nyro did a great version of it on this record. Likewise, "And When I Die" was a huge hit for Three Dog Night, and "Wedding Bell Blues" and "Blowin' Away" were both hits for the 5th Dimension. She was doomed to be a name in the brackets of hit records, but never on the cover of them.

The production on this record is pure 1967. Not Sgt Pepper proto psychedelic 1967, or Velvet Underground & Nico proto fauvist punk 1967, but hip, MOR 1967. You can almost see Sammy Davis Jr tapping his beige Hush Puppies approvingly in the corner of the studio. I guarantee that all the musicians who worked on this album were referred to as "cats". Well, those cats did a great job. Some of the arrangements work better than others – "Goodbye Joe" swings along beautifully, but the strident brass almost overpowers Nyro's voice in places. It's still pretty groovy. "Billy's Blues" is the dictionary definition of smoky, late nite bar chanteuse style and might be the best song on the record. On this tune, the arrangement is perfectly measured and fits her beautifully.

There are four hit singles on this album, but none of them were hits for Nyro. She got close to the Billboard Top 100 with the gorgeous "Wedding Bell Blues", but I guess that wasn't close enough. Despite the lack of sales, it seems she had the ear of many of her contemporaries. Everyone from Carole King to (especially) Todd Rundgren was listening and dozens of albums in the wake of More Than a New Discovery tipped their hats to it, in the form of a chord progression, a melody or a vocal inflection. On this record, Nyro was forbidden to play piano as her accomplished but eccentric style was deemed unsuitable by the producer, so she concentrated solely on her singing. Here, she hints at what she would be truly capable of as a vocalist on her next two records – Eli and the Thirteenth Confession and New York Tendaberry, but for a 19-year-old cutting her first album, you really shouldn't complain.

It's hard to figure out why this record didn't propel Nyro further up the ladder as an artist and not just a writer. The songs are great. She sings them well. It's neatly produced (as this mono reissue testifies), and she was every inch, the pale and interesting, female singer-songwriter that got music critics frothing at the mouth. Sadly, the moment passed, and then it was 1976, and we had the Ramones. Blue-eyed soul and introspection were soon to be replaced by something a lot more primal. By the time we realized what she was, she was gone.

When we think about 1967, we think of Are You Experienced, The Doors and Forever Changes et al. Spare a thought for More Than a New Discovery. A great record, released in a year of brilliant records, it was doomed almost from the start. In 2020, we get to hear it without the weight of expectation on its shoulders, and if you've ever enjoyed music by Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Rickie Lee Jones, and countless others, you're probably going to enjoy this. I mean, every day's a school day, right?

7


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Music

Great Peacock Stares Down Mortality With "High Wind" (premiere + interview)

Southern rock's Great Peacock offer up a tune that vocalist Andrew Nelson says encompasses their upcoming LP's themes. "You are going to die one day. You can't stop the negative things life throws at you from happening. But, you can make the most of it."

Music

The 80 Best Albums of 2015

Travel back five years ago when the release calendar was rife with stellar albums. 2015 offered such an embarrassment of musical riches, that we selected 80 albums as best of the year.

Film

Buridan's Ass and the Problem of Free Will in John Sturges' 'The Great Escape'

Escape in John Sturge's The Great Escape is a tactical mission, a way to remain in the war despite having been taken out of it. Free Will is complicated.

Books

The Redemption of Elton John's 'Blue Moves'

Once reviled as bloated and pretentious, Elton John's 1976 album Blue Moves, is one of his masterpieces, argues author Matthew Restall in the latest installment of the 33 1/3 series.

Music

Whitney Take a Master Class on 'Candid'

Although covers albums are usually signs of trouble, Whitney's Candid is a surprisingly inspired release, with a song selection that's eclectic and often obscure.

Music

King Buzzo Continues His Reign with 'Gift of Sacrifice'

King Buzzo's collaboration with Mr. Bungle/Fantômas bassist Trevor Dunn expands the sound of Buzz Osborne's solo oeuvre on Gift of Sacrifice.

Music

Jim O'Rourke's Experimental 'Shutting Down Here' Is Big on Technique

Jim O'Rourke's Shutting Down Here is a fine piece of experimental music with a sure hand leading the way. But it's not pushing this music forward with the same propensity as Luc Ferrari or Derek Bailey.

Music

Laraaji Returns to His First Instrument for 'Sun Piano'

The ability to help the listener achieve a certain elevation is something Laraaji can do, at least to some degree, no matter the instrument.

Music

Kristin Hersh Discusses Her Gutsy New Throwing Muses Album

Kristin Hersh thinks influences are a crutch, and chops are a barrier between artists and their truest expressions. We talk about life, music, the pandemic, dissociation, and the energy that courses not from her but through her when she's at her best.

Music

The 10 Best Fleetwood Mac Solo Albums

Fleetwood Mac are the rare group that feature both a fine discography and a successful series of solo LPs from their many members. Here are ten examples of the latter.

Music

Jamila Woods' "SULA (Paperback)" and Creative Ancestry and Self-Love in the Age of "List" Activism

In Jamila Woods' latest single "SULA (Paperback)", Toni Morrison and her 1973 novel of the same name are not static literary phenomena. They are an artist and artwork as galvanizing and alive as Woods herself.

Film

The Erotic Disruption of the Self in Paul Schrader's 'The Comfort of Strangers'

Paul Schrader's The Comfort of Strangers presents the discomfiting encounter with another —someone like you—and yet entirely unlike you, mysterious to you, unknown and unknowable.

Music

'Can You Spell Urusei Yatsura' Is a Much Needed Burst of Hopefulness in a Desultory Summer

A new compilation online pulls together a generous helping of B-side action from a band deserving of remembrance, Scotland's Urusei Yatsura.

Music

Jess Cornelius Creates Tautly Constructed Snapshots of Life

Former Teeth & Tongue singer-songwriter Jess Cornelius' Distance is an enrapturing collection of punchy garage-rock, delicate folk, and arty synthpop anthems which examine liminal spaces between us.

Books

Sikoryak's 'Constitution Illustrated' Pays Homage to Comics and the Constitution

R. Sikoryak's satirical pairings of comics characters with famous and infamous American historical figures breathes new and sometimes uncomfortable life into the United States' most living document.

Music

South African Folk Master Vusi Mahlasela Honors Home on 'Shebeen Queen'

South African folk master Vusi Mahlasela pays tribute to his home and family with township music on live album, Shebeen Queen.

Music

Planningtorock Is Queering Sound, Challenging Binaries, and Making Infectious Dance Music

Planningtorock emphasizes "queering sound and vision". The music industry has its hierarchies of style, of equipment, of identities. For Jam Rostron, queering music means taking those conventions and deliberately manipulating and subverting them.

Music

'History Gets Ahead of the Story' for Jazz's Cosgrove, Medeski, and Lederer

Jazz drummer Jeff Cosgrove leads brilliant organ player John Medeski and multi-reed master Jeff Lederer through a revelatory recording of songs by William Parker and some just-as-good originals.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.