Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Nights with Nyro

For years I've warily approached the music of Laura Nyro and then retreated back to a safer spot. It seemed too full, in every song the whole of a world, with a knowing voice that spoke a new American English:
Do you Surry? New York Tendaberry. Once it was alright now.
Strange phrases, new words, audacious chords, unfashionable references, time stops and starts again; her own doowop down on the corner somewhere in New York City.
Now, in my middle years, I'm finally ready for her. I found a way into Nyro's music through her fifth album, a collaboration with LaBelle and the Philadelphia production team of Gamble & Huff -- 1971's covers album, Gonna Take a Miracle. Familiar songs like "Jimmy Mack," "Nowhere to Run," "You've Really Got a Hold on Me," and "Spanish Harlem" sit beautifully beside more obscure soul gems like "The Bells." Sympathetic harmonies by Patti LaBelle, Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash elevate Nyro's full voice and piano. Gamble & Huff would go on to define the Philly Sound and a string of Seventies hits like "Love Train" by the O'Jays the following year and "When Will I See You Again" by The Three Degrees, a Philly Soul classic in 1974. You can hear the building blocks coming together on Gonna Take a Miracle --  Motown meets Philadelphia crossed with New York -- a set of ten well-worn songs made new by the touch of a singular genius of the late Laura Nyro.

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