Laura Nyro William Kloman - Essay

William Kloman

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Laura Nyro is now the hippest thing in music. By the end of the year she may be the hottest as well…. "Eli and the Thirteenth Confession" describes, in 13 songs, ("Eli" and "The Confession" are two of them), a young woman's passage from childhood to maturity. The initial reviews were uniformly ecstatic, but the reviewers obviously had trouble fitting Laura into existing categories…. Her music—all of which she writes, arranges and sings to her own accompaniment has been called rock, jazz, soul and classical….

Like Bob Dylan, another writer who was discovered only after other artists began recording his songs, Laura Nyro is a poet. Dylan's images are rich literary constructions accompanied, troubadour-fashion, by music; Laura's poetry, however, is a totally musical form in which lyrics and melody are inseparable. She chooses words for their tonality, and the singer's voice becomes one instrument among many. Laura's lyrics are a staccato bombardment of sound which touches the senses before it can reach the mind….

Laura Nyro is perhaps the first fully urban composer to emerge from popular music. Her love of the city is expressed in the convulsively shifting moods of her music. When she sings the blues, it is an apartment house wall, untouched by the levee or the plantation. Her melodies capture the city's tempo the way Mozart's quartets captured the spicy nuances of 18th-century drawing rooms. Strains of Gershwin and Bernstein flash through Laura's songs…. But it is Bernstein without Bernstein's sentimentality, and Gershwin perhaps on acid….

"The struggle in the city is between health and sickness—God and the Devil. That's been my experience," Laura says. The Devil shows up frequently in her lyrics, and lately he has been losing….

[Her new album will be called "New York Tendaberry."] "Tendaberry" is a word Laura made up to describe the warm, tender core she perceives deep inside the city's grating exterior…. "Tendaberry" is not a romantic concept, because romance isn't what Laura Nyro sees at the center of things. It is the sensual, immediate experience of a 20-year-old woman who has looked into the heart of the city and transcended its decay with the knowledge that, somewhere beneath the dirt, God is alive and waiting.

William Kloman, "Laura Nyro: She's the Hippest—and Maybe the Hottest?" in The New York Times, Section II (© 1968 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), October 6, 1968, p. 32.