Laura Nyro James Wolcott - Essay

James Wolcott

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Mystique is Laura Nyro's mantra. During the Sixties her delicate urban lyricism made her a Cher for middle-class bohemians—a bohemian princess—and a four year sabbatical fashioned that mystique into drama…. The release of Smile aroused curiosity as to what Laura Nyro would have to report after several years in the shadows: as with Joni Mitchell, Nyro sparks in her audience a sense that they are not only watching her grow as artist and woman, but that they are shaping that growth—that a collective autobiography is being written.

Smile makes for a very dull chapter.

Smile suggests that those years were spent in a hammock, or on the front porch watching the waning moon, or on a tranquil beach … evenings without lightning. Like so many female-artiste works (Snow's Second Childhood, Janis Ian's Aftertones, Carole King's Thoroughbred), the album is fluid, wistful, jazzy … caressingly inoffensive … inoffensive except for Nyro's voice which sounds as if a starving cat were trapped in her ribcage.

Two nice moments: the album's opening, when Nyro says "Strange" as the acoustic guitar enters, and the Oriental ballet instrumental which softly closes side two. In between, the screeching of the cat and the swaying of the hammock … cosmic jottings and scratchy musings … if Emily Dickinson had mastered the acoustic guitar and her morbidity, she might have written songs like these … luckily for us she preferred to dust the furniture.

James Wolcott, "Records: 'Smile'," in Creem (© copyright 1976 by Creem Magazine, Inc.), Vol. 76, No. 8, July, 1976, p. 66.