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Christmas and the beads of sweat

4.9 out of 5 stars 73 customer reviews

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Vinyl, 1970
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Editorial Reviews

Review by Lindsay Planer.... Laura Nyro's third.. effort is easily the equal of her previous two. The overwhelming strength of her song writing and distinctive arrangements fuel Christmas and the Beads of Sweat. Her unmistakable style of delivery maintains the continual examination of herself as a performer. The results are uniformly interesting and provocative as she continues to draw upon her love of jazz, folk, and R&B... Conceptually, this album is as potent as her previous effort.. but in a much different way. Rather than hanging together thematically, Christmas... features two inclusive and distinctive sides of music - with different musicians and producers for each. The first five tracks feature Nyro backed by the Swampers from Muscle Shoals, AL.... The final four pieces are steeped in noir more atypical of her previous efforts. The all-star cast of New York City session heavyweights are led by Felix Cavaliere (producer) and features fellow Rascals member Dino Danelli (drums), Ralph McDonald (percussion), Chuck Rainey (bass), Cornell Dupree (guitar), Duane Allman (guitar), and Alice Coltrane (stringed harp), among others. As with all of Nyro's recordings, at the heart of this effort are her ageless compositions and arrangements. A motif connecting such disparate tunes as the upbeat "When I Was a Freeport and You Were the Main Drag" to the hauntingly beautiful "Christmas in My Soul" and "Beads of Sweat" is the aching hollowness that came with the disillusionment that Vietnam, Kent State, and racial relations brought upon America in 1970. As she had done with "Save the Country" some four years earlier, Nyro's cathartic expressionism is captured at its most fervent on this album.

Product Details

  • Vinyl
  • Label: Columbia Records
  • Run Time: 45 minutes
  • ASIN: B001D105UA
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #487,817 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Gary F. Taylor HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 7, 2003
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
CHRISTMAS AND THE BEADS OF SWEAT was a critical disaster when it was released in 1970, and even as late as the 1990s ROLLING STONE critics described it as Laura Nyro's single worst recording. But the reassesment of her work that followed in the wake of Nyro's death has now placed the album as the equal of Nyro's earlier ELI & THE 13TH CONFESSION and NEW YORK TENDABERRY--something that Nyro fans could have told the critics all along.

In some ways the difficulties in evaluating this recording are understandable. Nyro's ELI and TENDABERRY recordings have a uniquely timeless quality, and it would be difficult for a first-time listener to fix them at any particular year or even decade; SWEAT, however, is very distinctly rooted in the emerging music of the 1970s. But more to the point, the album sounds commercial while it is actually one of the least commercial recordings Nyro ever created: throughout SWEAT, Nyro repeatedly uses pop-music idioms, but she never actually allows them to evolve into anything that could be remotely described as pop music per se, and in the process she repeatedly leaves the listener hanging, waiting for musical phrases that she never creates. The result is a very strange tension between what one expects to hear and what one actually gets.

Of the nine selections on this recording, the two that inevitably take the most heat from critics are "Map to the Treasure" and the title cut "Christmas In My Soul;" oddly, however, they both bear a striking similarity to the most celebrated cuts from the recording: "Brown Earth," "Upstairs By A Chinese Lamp," and "Beads of Sweat.
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Format: Audio CD
This is the last album of original material that Laura Nyro released during her most prolific and inventive years (1966-1971), and remains a landmark album, a seamless blend of jazz, pop, soul, gospel, rock and folk. "Christmas" is a must for any fan of Nyro's music, and a good place to start for the adventurous few who want to explore uncharted territory. The songs range from the up-tempo funk of "Brownearth" and "Blackpatch" to the experimental 8-minute odyssey "Map to the Treasure." With gorgeous harmonies and exceptional piano-playing, Nyro conjures a haunting, fragile mood, as in the wistful love story, "Upstairs by a Chinese Lamp." While the album contains many outstanding tracks, like the rocking, intense "Beads of Sweat" and the truly lovely cover of Motown classic "Up On the Roof," what is most impressive about "Christmas and the Beads of Sweat" is the way the songs build on one another, creating a satisfying and remarkably coherent musical statement. Vocals are layered on top of each other, spotlighting Nyro's three-octave range, chord progressions are stretched to the breaking point, bells jingle and harps swirl, while the bass pumps funkily, commingling in compositions which contain, but never seem satisfied with, catchy hooks and the prettiest of melodies. Produced by Nyro and Arif Mardin, with a host of guest musicians including the great Alice Coltrane on harp, this album stands as a testament to the legacy of a brilliant and deeply talented musician at her creative peak.
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The crowning apex of her 3 previous albums. This is a contiuation of New York Tendaberry. Nyro continues writing and singing about "the city", and the intensity is almost more evident. On the original LP or the last four songs on the CD was her Four Seasons Suite: Upstairs By A Chinese Lamp is Spring, "they softly talk in the cool spring night". Map To The Treasure is Summer, "beneath indian summer". Beads Of Sweat is Autumn, "cold jade wind not an angel in the sky". Christmas In My Soul is Winter with its holiday theme and call for peace on earth in a bleak world. It is all there in the words, the music and the atmosphere of each song. Christmas In My Soul is as relevant today as it was 30 years ago, just the characters have changed a bit. Been On a Train was also choreographed as a part of the ballet "Cry" by Alvin Ailey! What better recognition of Laura's power with words and music.
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In the two- or three-dozen reviews I've read, of Laura's work over the span of her career, a couple of themes keep reappearing -- her perpetual inability to enjoy the success with her music that other artists, covering her tunes, did; her inaccessibility to the mainstream listener and, worse, her apparent refusal to cater to those very listeners.
People, people, people... let's, for once, get it right. Laura Nyro, reluctant iconoclast to the end, could only respond effectively to the dictates of her muse. The rest of us were free to come to our own conclusions - in either direction.
If you look at the range of high-end musicians of her period who worked with her, you begin to understand just how unique and richly gifted she truly was. If you want to pick at her, you can say 'her voice was occasionally harsh and strident', or that 'her lyrics read like a diary authored on mescaline and absinthe'. Say what you like, you can't deny that:
1) Laura brought more honest and passion to her work than any but a very small group of her peers.
2) Her musical vocabulary was light years ahead of all but a very small group of her peers, and
3) Her integrity in consciously moving away from 'the biz' leaves no question as to her ultimate motivation - to produce the best, most meaningful music that she could.
4) Enough popular artists enjoyed success with her work to place her well up the list of "songwriters whose work enjoys mass acceptance".
For my part, I cringe every time I hear a L.N. cover by Three Dog Night or Fifth Dimension. It's the audio equivalent of pouring ketsup on Filet Mignon.
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