Like her contemporary Carole King, Laura Nyro had a knack for writing songs that hit big when interpreted by other artists--but unlike Carole King she herself never quite made the leap into personal stardom, and although both her songs and her recordings were enormously influential she is still largely unknown outside the core of fans that consistently responded to her work throughout her lifetime. THE FIRST SONGS (originally released as MORE THAN A NEW DISCOVERY) gives us Nyro at her youthful best, and lets us hear her own interpretation of several pieces that would be smash hits for the likes of The 5th Dimension, Barbra Striesand, and Blood, Sweat, and Tears.
The arrangements are very much of their place and time: piano, harmonica solos, and the sort of polyharmonic brass and back-up vocals typical of late 1960s and early 1970s glossy pop. And the songs are an eccelectic lot: a touch of pop, a touch of blues, a sprinkling of folk, some of them tightly wound pop hits (such as "Wedding Bell Blues,") but most very free-style (such as "Lazy Susan.") And then there is Nyro's voice.
Nyro did not really have a uniquely memorable voice, but it was very strong, very clean, and very unpretentious, and therein lay its ultimate power: you feel that if the girl next door had the talent to lay bare her soul through writing and singing her own music, this is what it would sound like. Nyro easily bests the artists who covered her on "Wedding Bell Blues," "Stoney End," and "And When I Die," but perhaps her most uniquely personal work (and to my mind most satisfying on the recording) are the the spiraling, breezy "Blowing Away," touching "Billy's Blues," and sadder-but-wiser "He's a Runner."
Nyro eventually evolved into a truly remarkable artist who combined great delicacy of voice and lyric with unexpected melodies, in some ways anticipating such artists as Kate Bush, Tori Amos, and Rickie Lee Jones. And she did considerably more interesting work than this particular recording. But even so, THE FIRST SONGS is an enjoyable introduction to her work, and recommended to established and new fans alike.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer