Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Laura Nyro

  • Christmas and the Beads of Sweat [Columbia, 1970] C+
  • Gonna Take a Miracle [Columbia, 1971] B-
  • Smile [Columbia, 1975] B-
  • Season of Lights: Laura Nyro in Concert [Columbia, 1977] B-
  • Mother's Spiritual [Columbia, 1984] C+

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Christmas and the Beads of Sweat [Columbia, 1970]
Nyro is one of those hypersensitive types--they're usually women, which says more about women's oppression than their gifts, though it pertains to both--who can't see the condition for the nuance. There's no denying she's unique--her jazzy pop-gospel synthesis is without precedent or facsimile. No denying that she's serious, either, and probably in a good way--dedicated to her vision and her craft rather than pompous or solemn. But for an unsolemn person she cracks very few jokes, and her way with words, like everything else about her, is self-consciously romantic. She was born 150 years too late. When she's on, her music can overtake you anyway, but there's no "Wedding Bell Blues" or "Stoney End" on this album--melodically, "Up on the Roof" dwarfs her every meander. The plus is on general principles. C+

Gonna Take a Miracle [Columbia, 1971]
In which the Bronx tearjerker reveals the source of her gloppy sensibility--good old girl-group rock and roll. Which is fine, except that glop tastes best prepared according to the traditional recipes, rather than disguised as untrammeled lyricism the way it is here. Might be different if Nyro were Aretha Franklin, as is painfully obvious every time she shows off the high part of her famous range. Still, backup singers Labelle don't screech once, Gamble & Huff control the rhythm section if not the artiste, and two of the ten remakes are ear-openers: "I Met Him on a Sunday," which begins acappella, and "Monkey Time/Dancing in the Street," which rocks. B-

Smile [Columbia, 1975]
The momentum of the Moments' "Sexy Mama" does her nicely through "Children of the Junks," in which r&b goes to Hong Kong, and "Money," the second straight track to use the word "tax-free," although it ends ominously, with instructions to "make your vibe go round." And sure enough, this gasps on from there like a novice practicing circular breathing. I'd say that after four years she's out of training, but she's never been in training. B-

Season of Lights: Laura Nyro in Concert [Columbia, 1977]
Most rock and rollers are too loose on live albums, but Nyro gets so carried away in the studio that the unerasable living band insures relatively straightforward remakes. My favorite moment, though, is when she introduces the musicians in a speaking voice nasal enough to make Dion sound Delta born-and-raised--finally I understand why Bronxites love her. I await explanations from Queens. B-

Mother's Spiritual [Columbia, 1984]
Though for a long time Nyro's heartfelt commitment to solipsism blocked her access to the greater truth, the romantic generalizations of matrifocal ecofeminism prove as ideally suited to her moody style of gush as the pat improvisations of "women's" folk-jazz do to her once unique and still arresting swoops and changes. Now that she's not only a refugee from the city but a mom herself, she's created an album "dedicated to the trees." Of course, earth motherhood can be a bummer sometimes, so if she can get hold of "a ship from space" she'll take her leave of this "world that cannot give." Then we'll be sorry. Inspirational Footnote (to the line "while hawks* destroy"): "*This word is being used in its traditional sense of war consciousness and not in reference to the spirit of the soaring bird." C+