It's the voice stupid.....
brian davis | morrisville, pa USA | 03/28/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"....and oh yeah the arrangements, the poetry and the total originality of the songs. I am the blues and midnight blue are NOT blues songs.... the idea of a four bar blues format would seem silly to Laura Nyro except maybe as one movement in a four part suite "song". This tendency to pigeonhole really bugs me and is probably why most people will never get Laura Nyro. I recommended Smile and "Miracle" to my sisters as first Laura Nyro albums... if they don't get "The Voice" on these two the tempo changes and orchestration of the "Trilogy" Eli etc. will likely leave them confused on first listen. Where the hell did Midnight Blue come from? It raises the hairs on the back of my neck as does I am the Blues (both versions)...I say this stuff will be around a thousand years from now.....it's undeniable."
Patricia Hennessy | USA | 07/07/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
When Laura released this album in early 1976, the first thihg I noticed was the cover itself. It spoke volumes. No glam shots of a funky urban madonna cast against a backdrop of black or purple. It was literally just a couple of Polaroids centered on a bright red background. Beautiful, dramatic lettering gave way to a humble child-like block printing. Laura Nyro was announcing to the world, "Take me as I am. Unvarnished,de-mythologized transplanted city girl."
What I noticed as soon as I put the record on, was that the fevered tempos and sudden shifts of ELI and TENDABERRY were almost totally absent. SMILE continued in the vein of her last original work CHRISTMAS & THE BEADS OF SWEAT. But it was actually even more languid and dreamy than its predecessor.
I didn't know all the particulars about Laura's life, but it made perfect musical and poetic sense to me. Some of the infrequent reports about Laura that cropped up in the early 70s had her being depressed and artistically blocked. It wasn't until much later that I learned that, at least by her own account, her withdrawal had been voluntary and not necessarily a time of great misery. In any event, it was a relief and a joy to have her back. And to have her continuing to produce such beautiful work was even more a cause for celebration.
As she had done on CHRISTMAS and as she would later tend to do on almost all her subsequent releases, Laura included at least one non-original "heartbeat" song on the record and made it someting of a cornerstone. "Sexy Mama" could easily be taken for a Nyro composition. It fits right in and establishes the dreamy, meditative mood that dominates much of SMILE. "Children of the Junks" is one of Laura's least subjective songs, yet it's uniquely her--her vision of another place and culture. There are those who might take umbrage at her reference to "slant-eyed children of the junks," but those who knew Laura and her work knew that she was incapable of race baiting lingo. She was, if anything, sweetly naive and her loving portrait of the children of China reflects as much. What might be subversive are the mysterious "renegades" she mentions in the song's last lines. Who are they? Future protesters of Tiananmen Square?
Like CHRISTMAS before it, SMILE's uptempo numbers stand out all the more, given the subdued quality of most of the record. "Money" is an angry outcry against corporate greed and, implicitly, corporate control of recording artists. She makes her case more effectively than the dozens of other songwriters who have since done so, in part because she finds that the pain brings about growth: "She said, 'my struggle hurt/ but it turned me on/ and when my revolution came/ my chains were gone..." She thereby places her problems with the record company and/or management in a larger socio-political and ARTISTIC context that even people without recording contracts can relate to.
I speak of the dreaminess of much of the rest of the album, and it is indeed the thing that I keep coming back to, as well as the thing that makes me come back again and again to SMILE. Lines like, "There's smoke in the kitchen/and shrimps curl/the sun on black velvet/and high stars at the bottom of the world" transport me. Or how's this for sheer sensual poetry: "Lovers, light in the inn/what are they thinking"? Anybody else would tell you not only what they're thinking, but what they'll be up to in short order. Laura captures the magic of a sublimely romantic moment--just as she did in the earlier "December's Boudoir"--she want's to "talk to you, baby, on brandywine." Ah, to have shared a snifter or two of brandywine with a woman whom no less than Rickie Lee Jones called "the greatest songwriter of her generation!"
Whenever I introduce people to Laura's work, I still start off with ELI. I think it's vital that listeners discover what was so compelling about the young, passionate composer of such songs as "Poverty Train," "Timer" or "The Confession." But the more mature woman evidenced in such wise compositions here as "Stormy Love," "I Am the Blues" and the title track is just as compelling in a less overt way. No longer wrestling with God and the Devil, it seems, she simply states, 'I'm a non-believer/ but I believe, I believe, I believe.../In your smile."
By Gregory B. Callahan"