You've probably heard this woman's songs without knowing it.
The feeling is innocent, yes, but a peculiar kind of 60's-flavored innocence: I see the Nyro Girl as a henna-haired twentynothing, clad in some voluminous confection that includes velvet, thin silk, and several animal products, holding forth in a lavish flower garden at dawn with crystal and sterling silver much in evidence, as well as the remains of an elegant latenight supper. After chanting a poem that perfectly captures the moment (in impromptu flawless literary Mandarin) she smiles....and partakes of more cocaine.
Big deal, you might say. Another coked-out heiress, we have 'em too....isn't she in rehab again?
Not quite. You see, she hasn't the faintest idea that there's anything wrong with this picture. And I'm sure you're not going to hear Britney or Paris or Mary-Kate/Ashley speaking literary anything. When she takes drunk, it's with a kittenish glee utterly blind to addiction or disaster. She's not apologizing for the fur or ivory... like a little girl at a tea party, the outfit wears her as much as she wears it. The moment wouldn't work if there appeared one smidgen of effort exerted to make it happen...no, this is just an ordinary...uh, what day of the week is it, anyway? And yet....
Her voice is trained, amazing. Her best material was written when she was from 17 to her early twenties, and, as I've hinted startlingly precocious. Coming from a family of jazz musicians, her work folds in jazz, show tunes, folk/Americana, and quite a bit of gospel, which -- "Glory River", with its central image of "meeting the King" at a folk baptism sounds more like a faux-woodcut 4th of July Hallmark card than an actual call to action, and being Jewish, she tends to like the idea of gospel more than any of the implied theology. "Sweet Blindness", a straight-on anthem to the pleasures of getting totally soused on (Prohibition era? illegal?) alcohol, clothes its seamy reality (wood alcohol destroys the optic nerve...and other things...permanently) in such slick showtune goofiness, it might as well be an early commercial for Mountain Dew. However, I dare you to hear the original "Eli's Coming" and not hear a wild witch dance owing nothing to Neo-Pagan prudery, or wonder whether the "Stoned Soul Picnic", on the surface as wholesome as an Interracial Family Day, isn't really an invitation to a psychedelic Eucharist. (She can use the word 'moonshine' and make it sound like actually drinking light...not corn liquor at all!) She claimed to have market-tested her songs busking in the New York Subway System, and lived to see her music make gold records for the likes of "The Fifth Dimension", "Three Dog Night" and Barbra Streisand.
She died in 1997. You owe it to yourself to check it out.