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Archive for October, 2008

Be Aware


My favorite song on Laura’s posthumous album Angel in the Dark is “Be Aware.” As I wrote in my book, “Her sweet but powerful rendition of the little known [Bacharach-David] classic draws tears.” I still can’t stay dry-eyed when I hear it. Could any sentiment be more appropriate at a time like this, when we–well, anyone who would be listening to Laura Nyro, at least–are so aware of the inequities here and around the world?

When the sun is warm where you are
And it’s comfortable and safe where you are
Well it’s not exactly that way all over, and
Somewhere in the world, someone is cold
Be aware
And while you’re feeling young, someone is old
Be aware

When there’s laughter all around me
And my family and friends surround me
If I seem to be forgetful, remind me that
Somewhere in the world, someone is weak
Be aware
And while you speak your mind, someone can’t speak
Be aware
Be aware

While your children sleep, somewhere in the world a child is homeless
When we have so much, should any child be homeless?
No, not even one child.
Be aware.

Here’s what a YouTuber whose tag is “dibotis” says about the song:

‘Be Aware’ was first introduced on the ‘Singer Presents Burt Bacharach’ special by Barbra Streisand, who did a lovely job with the tune, and [it] was to be included on her next album, September 1971’s Barbra Joan Streisand, but Streisand cut the tune from the album and it is not known if she ever recorded the tune commercially. That did not stop Burt Bacharach from taking Dionne Warwick into A&R studios and recording the tune in August 1971, with his arrangement, but without the spooky, chilling coda of Barbra’s version from the special. ‘Be Aware’ is a socially conscious anthem much in the same vein as ‘What the World Needs Now.’ Dionne’s passionate delivery of that message should have been a huge hit but the powers that be at Warner Brothers, for whatever reason, decided to release Jacques Brel’s composition ‘If We Only Have Love’ as the first single…

Dionne’s version of “Be Aware” is OK, but Streisand’s–see the top of this post (and don’t mind the iffy sound quality)–is magnificent, with a coda that indeed is chilling (that must be Burt playing the piano and conducting the orchestra). Wow. Much better to listen to this than to the Laura Nyro compositions Streisand covered on two separate albums in that same year–“Stoney End,” “Flim Flam Man,” “Time and Love” and “I Never Meant to Hurt You.” “Stoney End” may have been a big hit for Streisand, but I don’t think any of her Nyro covers captured either Laura’s rhythms nor the soul of the songs.

Agree or disagree?

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The great Shelby Lynne turns 40 today (October 22).

If you’re not familiar with her–watch out for the shameless plug here–you can read what I wrote about her for The Advocate earlier this year. Briefly, she was a Nashville singer for a decade, then rediscovered herself as a singer/songwriter and won a “Best New Artist” Grammy for her 1999 album I Am Shelby Lynne, which drew fond comparisons to Dusty Springfield’s 1968 masterpiece, Dusty In Memphis. This year, Shelby brought the Dusty connection full-circle, releasing a Dusty tribute that’s her best-selling album yet, Just A Little Lovin’.

Ok, I’m getting to the Nyro connection.

Laura, too, loved Dusty, as I pointed out in my book Soul Picnic. If you’ve read the book, you might remember Laura’s 1966 studio demo session with her first manager, Artie Mogull, in which he asks her to play something she didn’t write after she’s just shown off her prodigal songwriting skills with several originals. Laura hadn’t prepared any cover songs–as if she needed to!–so she stumbled around trying to play something, offering a line of “Kansas City” and then–here it comes–the opening line of Dusty Springfield’s “I Only Want To Be With You.”

Check out a video of Shelby’s version (above), and if she’s in your area during her fall tour, check out Shelby as well. She’s a masterful performer; you won’t regret spending an evening with her.

P.S. There’s another single-degree-of-separation between Shelby and Laura: Shelby cut Felix Cavaliere’s “How Can I Be Sure” for Just A Little Lovin’ , and Felix was both Laura’s friend/Danbury neighbor and the coproducer of Christmas and the Beads of Sweat (plus he helped out on Nested). And by the way, when I met Shelby I gave her a copy of my book and emailed her a list of Nyro albums she should listen to. Always trying to widen the circle of Laura love …

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Ride a Tall White Horse


As I discovered while researching my bio of Laura, Lesley “It’s My Party” Gore was a big Nyro fan back in the day. She brought several of Laura’s compositions to the attention of her producer, Quincy Jones, and he agreed to cut “Wedding Bell Blues”–which, unfortunately for Gore, was released the same week as the Fifth Dimension’s version. You all know which one went to Billboard’s #1 spot and which was never heard again.

But even before she cut WBB, Gore and her songwriter brother Michael had produced their own Nyro pastiche, “Ride a Tall White Horse.” It’s rather hilarious in its unabashed homage to Laura. How many Nyro “quotes” can you distinguish? Offhand, I hear “Blowin’ Away,” “Timer,” “Stoney End” and the start-stop of “Farmer Joe.” The song was basically a demo, never released, but has appeared on Gore anthologies–and on YouTube (above).

It’s no surprise that Gore remains a Nyro fan to this day. And now we come to the timely point of this post: She’s currently touring with a set that includes “I Never Meant To Hurt You,” the wrenching ballad from Laura’s first album. New Yorkers can check out Gore’s version on Halloween at the Metropolitan Museum’s Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium. Enjoy her party–and wear your Laura Nyro costume!

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Season of Nested Lights


Didja know that Laura’s albums Nested and Season of Lights–the complete version of the latter, not the truncated one issued in the U.S.–have been rereleased on CD? We have Frank Ursoleo and his Iconoclassic Records to thank for these gifts–and Mother’s Spiritual is next on his schedule! I was honored to write the liner notes for the first two albums Iconoclassic has restored for us, and hopefully will do so for the next as well.

I found one YouTube entry (above) of a cut from Nested–enjoy! What are your favorite songs from one or both of these albums? I’ve always loved “Sweet Sky” from Nested, which is such an underrated album.

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First of all, thanks for the wonderful response to the blog! Always great to connect with The Tribe …

Here’s another if-Laura-had-lived thought: She could now have married her longtime partner Maria Desiderio, as Connecticut has just approved same-sex marriage. (Sadly, of course, Maria passed away too young as well, just a couple of years after Laura.)

Meanwhile, in my home state of California, we’re biting our nails over Proposition 8, which would throw out the recent state Supreme Court decision to legalize same-sex marriage here. If you have California friends or acquaintances, tell them to VOTE NO!

And now–click on the YouTube video above–here’s a pretty remarkable cover (well, remarkable singers, lousy version) of “Wedding Bell Blues”–the song that made me fall in love with Laura 42 (!) years ago. (Wait for it: it’s preceded by a re-lyric’d “I’m A Woman.”)

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Welcome to Laura Land

Today, Laura Nyro would have turned 61 years old.

Imagine what she might have done had she lived past age 49.

How many more songs she would have written and sung. How many more albums she would have recorded. How many more hours of delight she would have provided us. How many more artists would have been inspired by her music and her artistic example.

Instead, we have memories. We have photographs. We have her songs.

Countless times since 9/11, I have heard her call to “Save the Country” playing in my head. This final month, before the most important election I can recall in my lifetime, it’s on a continuous loop.

I’ve decided to start this blog to carry on the work I began with the biography, “Soul Picnic: The Music and Passion of Laura Nyro” (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, 2002. When I wrote the book, I wanted to return Laura more fully to popular consciousness. That has happened to some extent, and certainly not just because of the book: There have been plays such as “Eli’s Comin'” in New York, new cover recordings of her songs, re-releases of her albums and frequent namechecks of Nyro by other artists. But still, when the lists of greatest albums are compiled, Nyro’s masterpieces such as “Eli and the Thirteenth Confession” and “New York Tendaberry” are all too easily forgotten. She has not been considered for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, nor the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame. That’s just wrong.

In this blog, I’ll continue the drumbeat for Laura’s proper recognition in the pantheon of popular music of the past 40-some years. I’ll bring attention to various Laura connections, musical or otherwise. I’ll also give shout-outs to artists who have been influenced by her, including a number who have been in touch with me in recent years. And sometimes I’ll just ask your indulgence to share my discoveries from YouTube and elsewhere that may relate only tangentially to Laura, but somehow connect to the same wellspring of musical joy.

I’ll look forward to your comments, your memories, your own sharing of great music and great artists. Thanks for dropping by …

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