The Fourteenth Confession – Songs of Laura Nyro
Sometimes it takes a tribute or interpretations from another artist for one to truly appreciate the beauty and power of the songs left behind by the original. Thus is the case for this live performance by Maryjo Mundy last year at the Gardenia in Hollywood, CA in tribute to Laura Nyro. Nyro, of course, never had a major hit on her own but has several songs that we’re all familiar with that were huge hits for others like the Fifth Dimension and Blood, Sweat, and Tears to name just two. Undoubtedly Nyro was an outstanding songwriter but, at least for this writer, her voice was an acquired taste. Mundy doesn’t sing like Nyro. She’s very different but clearly has both a nuanced emotive and animated approach.
Hillary Rollins who is a producer, playwright, screenwriter, essayist and lyricist was impressed by Mundy’s singing, first hearing Mundy sing Irving Berlin’s “How Deep Is the Ocean?” at an open mic night that Maryjo was hosting. She then heard Mundy do a tribute to Nyro in 2016 and helped her revive the show for this recorded performance. For her part Mundy offers this as background (from the liner notes) –“I originally did this show – then titled “nearly Nyro” – on April 8th, 2016, the nineteenth anniversary of her passing, at the request of my friend, Jim Green, who told me one night after hearing me sing that I must sing Laura Nyro. I wasn’t sure why , because our voices and styles are not that similar, but it sparked a musical journey for which I will be forever grateful. I called Ross Kalling and asked him to work with me on an arrangement of “I Never Meant to Hurt You.” What came out of that session was so beautiful that I knew I had to do a whole show of Nyro’s music with Ross’s brilliance at the keys. Then everything just fell into place…”
The title of course is an homage to Nyro’s album, Eli & the Thirteenth Confession. Mundy, the jazz and cabaret singer works with Kalling, guitarist Tony Mandracchia, bassist Jonathan Richards, drummer John Gannon, and background vocalists Alexis Fae Gach and Andrea Ross Greene to deliver a comprehensive set of Nyro tunes that touch both on the hits and lesser known gems. It’s warm, inspiring, and, as mentioned before, truly animated, reaching peaks on the medley of “Stoned Soul Picnic/And When I Die” where the band threatens to blow the roof off the club, and the sultry approach to “Sexy Mama.” On the other hand, there are moments in “Eli’s Coming” “I Never Meant to Hurt You” and “You Don’t Love Me When I Cry” where the emotional range of Mundy’s delivery create a different kind of chill that may bring a tear.
We also have the rousing soul medley of “I met Him on a Sunday/It’s Gonna Take a Miracle,” Sweet Blindness” and the bouncy pop of “Wedding Bell Blues.” Deeper in the catalog we hear “Serious Playground,” the outcry against the music biz in “Money.” Mundy crosses boundaries a bit too by paring “Hi Heel Sneakers” with Nyro’s “The Confession” in a medley. Mundy isn’t just channeling the tunes faithfully, she puts her own spin on them, keeping the wonderful melodies intact.
The major takeaway here is joy, emblematic of the playful bonus track, “The Cat Song.” As we’ve heard through the years, Nyro’s tunes lend themselves to many interpretations but it’s rare we get almost an hour’s worth of them in one sitting. It makes us better appreciate the stellar quality of Nyro’s writing while we admire Mundy’s and band’s terrific performance.
- Jim Hynes