on May 21, 2001
One of the true (and few) masterpieces of popular music, this is a record that deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as "Pet Sounds", "What's Going on?" "Music From Big Pink".... whatever. There are not enough superalitives to express the greatness of this recording. It is the rare project that actually looks good on paper and sounds immeasurably better. It is truly one of the holy books of recorded sound.
This great reissue features stunning sound. Wow, I'd like to hear this on SACD, as the master tapes must be near perfect... spatial cues, huge soundstage, pin-point images. A great-sounding record all around. You can really appreciate every nuance of Harry's phrasing. The new liner notes are fascinating, shedding light on the painstaking process that was the construction of this record. I had no idea Harry was such a perfectionist! I always had thought this album was a "toss off"-- two buddys getting together and slapping together a brilliant album. In fact, they both worked so long and hard on this that Randy was bored to death!
If I had to point to one record where Harry's voice was consistently at its greatest, this would be that record. His soft, yearning turns-of-phrase on "I'll be home"--- his rocking-to-sweet delivery on the brilliant "Vine Street". There is not a misstep to be heard. I think he was the greatest vocalist in pop, and this is a real showcase for that.
My one gripe with this record is the inclusion of "The Beehive State". I've never understood why they chose it. It's one of my least favorite of Newman's song (okay, I hate it, actually) and it really doesn't fit with the sly humor and almost melancholic bent of the rest of the record. It has always seemed out of place to me and it still does. With the addition of the bonus track "Snow", it's even more curious that they wouldn't have given that track the nod over "Beehive"... Oh well, I'm not a musical genius, so who am I to complain! Maybe it was like the flawed stitch in a navjo quilt...
on November 13, 2000
Nilsson is dead, while Newman now scores movies like his illustrious forbears. Back in the day, however, for one brief, shining moment, the two aspiring songsters united for this still-unrecognized masterpiece. While each participant was well-skilled in singing and songwriting, Nilsson, arguably the better singer, sang, while Newman, arguably the better songwriter, provided the songs and played piano. Neither was well-known to the public, despite chart successes recognized by at least a sliver of the industry. The resulting album was well-reviewed at the time, but failed to click with the buying public. Mine own vinyl copy was purchased at a garage sale a few years after its release; even then it was a radio station freebee with the signature "Jim Sloane" scrawled in Magic Marker on the album's cover. After a few listens, the album became a frequent play for me and vivid enough to provide me, as a budding high school film maker, with the inspiration for several (unmade) animated films. As I listen to it now, at least two decades removed from my initial infatuation, I find that the album holds up quite well. More lieder recital than "rock'n'roll record," points must be given for sheer timelessness. These two took songwriting seriously; they weren't only in search of the latest hit, though both saw chart success, but each also seemed to pursue songwriting for its own sake. Fact is that I still prefer the versions on this album to several of the tracks on Newman's debut; Nilsson's spontaneous studio-smarts and seeming emotional directness as a singer trump Newman's painstaking orchestral arrangements and studious Fats Domino mumble. Take this, then, as a qualified rave. If you've ever responded to either of these artists, or to great song themselves, then give this a try. I don't think you'll be disappointed.
on June 30, 2000
I know generally record companies don't give anything away for free, but the rerelease of this 1970 album is certainly a gift for what has to be a small audience: Thank you, Buddha (Records)! What we have here must be one of the most historic matchups of talented songwriters, Harry Nilsson, who up until then had a big hit single with someone else's song (Fred Neil's "Everybody's Talkin'" from "Midnight Cowboy"), and three critically admired but poor-selling albums, and Randy Newman, yet to score even a major hit as a songwriter ('least he was on Warner Bros., a label that respected his talent, more than you can say for Harry's RCA deal)...So, as the publicity goes, it really was a brave thing to undertake this very low-key collection, mainly pared down to Randy's piano and Harry's lovely voice. Listening to it reminds me of attending a recital of art songs (and, you should turn this one up loud for full intimate effect, I think). For the most part, Harry has chosen the "nice-guy" (from the liner notes) songs from Randy's repertoire (the one exception, "Yellow Man," does sound better coming from Randy's ironic pipes), and they are simple songs that sparingly sketch out his scenarios of nostalgia ("Dayton, Ohio 1903," "Vine St."), loss/regret ("Living Without You," "So Long Dad"), and hey, even Love. Fans of Randy Newman will be intrigued by comparing the different versions both singers have laid down ('frinstance, I like Randy's version of "Love Story" much better than Harry's, no shame there though). Also impressive is that even with the spare instrumentation all around, Harry worked laboriously on multi-tracking his voice so that the results are fairly gorgeous, and the small flourishes (like the mallet keyboards on "Caroline") say so much with so little. Also (again!), it's fascinating to me that interspersed amongst the crystal clear production and the smooth vocals is Randy and Harry chatting--studio patter! (At the end of "Snow," I believe, Randy says "Bad ending I played." "Yeah, I know...") Makes it all that more intimate--there! Have I convinced you to go out and get this? For those pop lovers with a taste for something unique, I don't think you can go wrong with this, especially if you have even the slightest interest in these two artists.
on February 12, 2000
30 years ago a young, little known singer named Harry Nilsson decided to record an entire album of songs by a young, little known songwriter named Randy Newman. The result was incredible. 30 years later, the result is still incredible.
Of course, these weren't just any two unknown musicians. They were two unknown musicians with a great deal of talent between them. Harry Nilsson would soon become a star with hits like "Without You" and "Coconut." And Randy Newman is still writing and singing wonderful songs to this very day. (Have you seen either of the "Toy Story" movies?)
But this album takes us back to a time when both young men were giving it their all, trying to be noticed in the music world. Harry singing "Vine Street," "Love Story," "Caroline," and "Dayton, Ohio 1903" ...it just doesn't get much better than this.
While Randy is still active today, we lost Good Old Harry a few years back. This newly released version of "Nilsson Sings Newman" (with a few bonus tracks added for good measure) will remind you of just how much we did lose.
So long Harry.
on March 3, 2000
I Love Harry Nilsson, but can't listen to this album because I can't stand Randy Newman. ALL of the songs were written by Randy and are well-crafted and poetic and BORing. This is really just an UNbearable Randy Newman album with the Fabulous Harry Nilsson singing lead vocals. By the time the first version of "Cowboy" ends I'm ready to kill Harry for doing an entire album of Randy's songs. By the second time "Cowboy" ends- with the alternate take-I'm ready to kill myself for buying it! My recommendations: "Harry" for pure pop genius tunesmith and excellent cover songs, "Nilsson Schmilsson" and "Son of Schmilsson" for touches of genius laced with silly humor, and "The Point" (buy the video and the CD) for a meaningful children's story narrated by Ringo Starr and sung by Harry.
on March 1, 2000
Wow! I hope the Nilsson re-releases don't stop until the entire catalog has been covered!
This is a tremendous album, mixing Nilsson's pure and perfect voice with the music and poetry of Randy Newman. The result is a sparse and deceptively simple work that has found its way deep into my heart and soul and will stay with me forever.
The digital remastering is wonderful; it's like hearing everything for the first time. The gem of the album, though, is the previously unreleased "Snow", with its sad lyric and heartfelt vocal from Harry. The liner notes said they had recorded Newman's "Linda" as well, but it is now lost - what a shame!
If you are a Nilsson fan, there's no debate: you've got to have this. If you are new to Nilsson's catalog, this is a nice entry point into his earlier (and best) work.
on November 1, 2000
Boy, they just don't make 'em like this anymore. There is a beauty and a simplicity and a sweetness to this album that is hard to describe. I think Nilsson's singing is the finest of his career. The combination of his quirky musical sense with Randy Newman's songs is perfection. Even when the lyrics or the singing are slightly goofy ("Vine Street, "So Long, Dad"), they still manage to be touching. "Living Without You" is the clincher. On a personal note... I remember first hearing this album about 8 years ago. I bought it on cassette for 99 cents from a discount bin. It didn't make much of an impression at first - the songs (and indeed the whole album) go by so quick that you might miss them. But give it time. You will find that you're singing them to yourself, and feeling them in your heart.
on March 20, 2000
Oh My God! I am floored by this disc. Sound is amazing, truly amazing. I must admit that I was less than impressed with the Buddha reissue of Pussy Cats, which does not sound anything like this disc nor was the packaging as good. Try to imagine liner notes that you can't read becaus they are printed over pictures. Anyway back to this album, Buddha does Harry right with a beautiful tribute to a classic record. Opening tribute from Randy Nilsson and touching insight into the recording of this masterpiece from Dean Torrence of Jan & Dean (I never knew he illustrated the cover) I hope that buddha does the rest of Harry's LP's this way. Please do Son Of next!
on February 24, 2000
When Harry Nilsson first recorded this album, Randy Newman was far from a household name. Or, rather, farther from being a household name than he is now. Still to come in Newman's career were "Sail Away," "Good Old Boys," "Trouble in Paradise," and his only hit single, "Short People."
That Nilsson had the taste and savvy to record this great collection of early Newman songs is not only a tribute to Newman, it's a testament to Harry himself. He was an idiocyncratic, multi-talented near-genius who was never in better form than on this album.
on March 9, 2000
This has always been one of my favorite CDs and this remastering is absolutely fantastic. Most of the Tunes have sparse instrumentation, With Newman on piano, but with rich, dense vocal arrangements all sung with Harry's distinctive 3 1/2 octave voice. Harry was at his best.
When I hear it i always imagine Randy sitting at piano surrounded by 8 or 10 harrys, all singing like a choir of quirky fallen angels.My favorite just got even better. In addition, the alternate takes are interesting and the lost song "SNOW" is like a piece of lost treasure.