Thursday, June 12, 2014

Album Review - This is The Town: A Tribute to Nilsson, Vol. 1

In my youth, while my friends were discovering Supertramp and Rush, I discovered the music of Harry Nilsson.  His LP's warmed my headphones on many a night.  Brooklyn indie record label Royal Potato Family has recently released 'This is The Town: A Tribute to Nilsson, Vol. 1,' a 20-track collection of predominantly young and obscure artists to interpret some of Nilsson's songs.  They were kind enough to send me a copy (on yellow vinyl!) to review.

Harry Nilsson was an under appreciated songwriter, a rare talent that was misunderstood at times but loved by his peers.  His escapades with John Lennon have been well documented and he was looked upon quite fondly.

In reviewing a compilation album, I find that I have to take each song as an individual recording, and base my observations and thoughts on the specific artist's rendition of the song.

Let's start with the first cut, Langhorne Slim's "Early In The Morning" from the 1971 LP 'Nilsson Schmilsson.' His raspy voice that captures the emotional depth and rolling boogie-woogie piano that was also prominent in Nilsson's version.  Dawn Landes does a superb job of the musically simplistic, snappy, tongue-in-cheek wrath of a scorned lover on the song "You're Breakin' My Heart" (from the 1972 LP 'Son of Schmilsson').

The third cut is a remake of "Jump Into The Fire," by Low Cut Connie. The rumbling bass lines, rollicking piano and almost controlled hysteria make this one of the most memorable cuts on the album (off the 1971 Nilsson Schmilsson LP).  Singer/songwriter Jenny-O contributes a circus-like balance and masterfully voiced-rootsy folk autobiographical rendition of the Nilsson cut "1941."  The Mommyheads bring a pleasant twist to the playful song "Me And My Arrow,' a landmark rendition mixed perfectly at Storefront Music by Adam Elk of the band.

Anne Nilsson (Harry’s daughter who also provided the lovely artwork) sings an uncanny, striking redo of the song "Gotta Get Up;" blended into a playful romp, delicate and beautiful. Blueberry's remake of "Poli High" captures the inherent qualities of the cut without being overpowering.  Willy Mason reflective narrative on "Think About Your Troubles" is tackled with daring ingenuity.  Yellowbirds' "Rainmaker" brings out the hazy sweetness of the cut into a pop friendly Tommy James and the Shondells-like vibe.

Marco Benevento's take on "Are You Sleeping" flows seamlessly and is tight and structured and pure pop pleasure. Rasputina's remake of the lyrically poignant "Sweethaven" is intoxicating thrilling.  Tracy Bonham does a standout job on her piano-bar based rendition of "Everybody's Talkin,'" a cut that grows on you every time you hear it; a wistful indie pop gem if there ever was one (which was written by Fred Neil, though Nilsson was the one who scored a hit with it).

Johnny Society's jazzy storyline of the quirky cut "Mr. Richland's Favorite Song" is more of the disoriented pop and delicious catchyness that has made Nilsson's songs stand the test of time.

“Each artist has taken a Nilsson song that meant something to them, and with passion and inspiration, transformed it into something that is both a fitting tribute, and entirely their own,” Kenny Siegal explains. “In doing so, they are helping Harry Nilsson to be remembered as his songs live again through these new creative interpretations.”

Side One
1. Langhorne Slim - Early In The Morning 
2. Dawn Landes - You’re Breakin’ My Heart 
3. Low Cut Connie - Jump Into The Fire 
4. Jenny O - 1941 
5. The Mommyheads - Me and My Arrow 
6. Annie Nilsson - Gotta Get Up 
7. Blueberry - Poli High

Side Two 
8. Willy Mason - Think About Your Troubles 
9. Yellowbirds - Rainmaker (Nilsson /Martin)
10. Marco Benevento - Are You Sleeping?
11. Rasputina - Sweethaven
12. Tracy Bonham - Everybody’s Talkin’ (Fred Neil)
13. Johnny Society - Mr. Richland’s Favorite Song

Harry Nilsson became one of the most celebrated songwriters of his generation, and in the process, a reluctant pop star who none the less garnered a cult following that remains to this day.  This is a record for your collection that will be played often, just like the music of Harry Nilsson.   A wonderful, eclectic collection of Harry Nilsson's music that won't disappoint.

***** 5 out of 5 stars from the CVR blog!

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