Eli and the Thirteenth Confession by Tim Bloch

20 June 2023
“When I found out that Charlie Calello was leading an ASMAC forum [masterclass], it seemed like the descent of the gods” —Tim Bloch

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About fifty-five years ago, Charlie Calello embarked upon what I believe to be not only one of the signature pop albums of the sixties—the best project by a white female singer/songwriter of all time—but also the best orchestration on a pop/rock record that I’ve ever heard. Of course, it’s Eli and the Thirteenth Confession, Laura Nyro’s iconic album that not only shattered all previous American pop-music walls, but also carved out universes of new ideas in this genre, some of which have not yet been transcended. Eli was a genre-breaker, an explosion of emotional fury orchestrated by a man who had somehow lodged himself in his client’s heart, and threw the light of a thousand colors onto the emotional landscape of the most profound woman songwriter of the era. Joni Mitchell used to sit in the front row of Nyro’s concerts; the rest of us just looked on (and listened) in awe. When I found out that Mr. Calello was leading an ASMAC forum [masterclass], it seemed like the descent of the gods, like bringing back Jerry Goldsmith or Bernard Herrmann from the outer reaches (where I hope they are educating the better inhabitants of the cosmos on orchestrating the unfurling of the Infinite). Great things really do disappear, stop being listened to, are buried by time and the fury of the day, and recede into some transcendent backwater, the suburbs of the Akashic records, there in our collective unconscious but not heard, seen, or realized by those caught up in today. Laura Nyro is not a polished singer: if her voice grates on you in places, try to overlook it and concentrate on the lyrics and Charlie’s colorful, impeccable orchestration.

Silver was the color Winter was a snowbell Mother of the windboys Livin’ on the lovewell I was livin’ on the lovewell… 

Amber was the color Summer was a flameride Cookin’ up the noon roads Walkin’ on God’s good side I was walkin’ on God’s good side…

Many of the production techniques you’ll hear her doing were initiated on this project: the chorus of voices, all done by her, was new, the type of lyric was new, the gospel feel in a love song was new, practically everything was new. Charlie’s orchestrations might have come straight from Nyro’s own heart—listen to the guitar intro on Lu, the haunting, impressionistic flute at the end of Poverty Train, or the titanic Hammond organ chord at the beginning of Eli’s Comin’they are instrumental re-creations of the lyric itself, timbral objective correlatives of the raw emotion that spawned these cries from the core of the human soul.

Eli and the Thirteenth Confession (1968) album by Laura Nyro

Laura Nyro—growing up in the streets of New York on street-corner doo-wop, soul, and rythm & blues—incorporated all of these things into the tapestry she wove about love, loss, and the transcendence of being human; with the exception of Joni, there hasn’t been anyone who approaches the breadth and depth of the feeling in these songs, and Charlie Calello made them come alive in ways that no one else ever came close to. The year was 1968, the world was holding its breath, and Laura made us remember who we were, where we came from, where our roads might lead, and revealed to us our own feelings by laying bare her own. For this, we owe her a debt that none of ever can repay; we can only sit down, exhale, give thanks for our own life, and once again listen to the voices of our hearts, coming from Nyro’s heart, soul, and imagination… Laura Nyro was one of those musicians who allowed me to appreciate and realize what music could be, what it could do, how it could inspire us, introduce all of us to, as Abraham Lincoln said, the better angels of our own nature. Someone has to blaze the trail; then we follow, and if we persevere and get lucky, we might stumble upon some new roads ourselves, and realize in our own time a hint of the glory of the cosmos we were born into… —by Tim Bloch
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