Laura Nyro
Spread Your Wings And Fly: Live At The Fillmore East May 30, 1971


It had been a while since I had received any news about the Laura Nyro re-release program that Sony had started two years ago (and that already seemed to be destined to oblivion?) when (surprise!) I heard about the imminent release of this album, which features an unreleased concert recorded at the celebrated Fillmore East, in those days THE rock venue in New York. More than one hour of (vibrant, and extremely communicative: listen to the audience reaction!) solo music, caught in a moment that it could be said closes the most innovative and vital period of the artistic trajectory of the musician from the Bronx. An artist whose influence (direct, and otherwise) is absolutely enormous (though not too easy to see, unless one wears the right kind of glasses), even on artists that may have not heard her music.

Two years ago Sony started re-releasing Nyro's back catalogue. The first batch comprised of Eli And The Thirteenth Confession (1968, the album where her musically multicoloured world appeared in its amazingly rich and highly communicative dimension), New York Tendaberry (1969, her darkest and most experimental work, with those mysterious echoes the fruit of her collaboration with ace producer and engineer Roy Halee) and Gonna Take A Miracle (1971, where her influences are passionately revisited): three re-releases that (at a budget price) offered nice pictures, song lyrics and perceptive and useful liner notes. So I thought it was just a matter of time for the re-release of her first album, More Than A New Discovery (1967, also known as The First Songs), recorded when Laura Nyro was just nineteen - but already a mature artist - and of the excellent Christmas And The Beads Of Sweat (1970). And - daydreaming is free, right? - maybe it was also time for Smile (1976, her comeback album) and Nested (1978, for this writer the last of her masterpieces). But no.

Spread Your Wings And Fly is a nice gift for those who already own her whole catalogue, but it can also function as an excellent introduction for the uninitiated (and 'cause it's of one piece, it's a more coherent document than an anthology). Almost wholly unreleased, too, just a few excerpts having appeared on the aforementioned edition of Gonna Take A Miracle. The recorded sound is very good, and I believe Al Quaglieri's "I'm sorry" message in the liner notes to be not entirely appropriate: a further reduction of the noise level would have had the effect of deadening the emotional peaks of her vocals and her piano.

The album is an accurate portrait of Nyro's world, where hand-in-hand with some of her classic songs (and two never-before released songs - American Dove and Mother Earth - which open and close the record) we find covers of songs such as (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman (by Goffin & King), Spanish Harlem (by Leiber & Spector, a song that Nyro was soon to record in the studio), a medley of Walk On By by Burt Bacharach and the world-famous Dancing In The Street, and Up On The Roof (again, by Goffin & King). In these times of all-pervading commercialism we can think about Nyro's pure artistic vision in giving such a big part of her concert to songs by other artists, songs that she simply liked - this, from somebody who was a lot more known for being a writer than as a solo artist!

If we compare (and this doesn't necessarily entail being unrespectful towards Carole King) Spread Your Wings And Fly and Tapestry - the album that, released in May 1971, shot to the top of the charts, and ultimately sold about sixteen million copies after 302 weeks in the charts - we can easily see the reason why Nyro's popularity was a lot more limited: her vocal and pianistic approach is too original, too idiosyncratic to be of mass appeal. Which is pretty apparent even when listening to her version of other people's songs, but it's obviously easy to see in the songs she wrote - check her performances of the then-unreleased I Am The Blues (which will later appear on Smile), the delicate and intimate Emmie, the knotty Map To The Treasure, the moral meditation of Christmas In My Soul, the incendiary gospel of Save The Country, the airy Lu and Flim Flam Man.

Nice pictures, liner notes, budget-line price... Surprise of the year?

Beppe Colli

© Beppe Colli 2004 | July 29, 2004