Vinyl View: Harry Nilsson – A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night

Delicately crafted orchestral arrangements accompany impeccable vocals from one of the ’70s greatest artists. Comfort music at it’s finest.  

It was between McCartney’s debut solo album McCartney, the new Rx Bandits LP Gemini, Her Majesty or a third record, and more importantly an artist that I had shrugged off for years — an artist I knew had some serious clout (this musician had been recommended to me by my musical pundit brother many times before) but was never given a fair chance.

Listening to a Harry Nilsson record always felt like a gamble — a Russian roulette of the turntable that could result in 45 minutes of precious vinyl time I could never get back. His name would pop up in conversations both familial and semi-social and I figured I would half like it, half think it was unworthy of spinning again. Thankfully, I finally gave this aforementioned artist a chance.

130717_CBOX_Nilsson.jpg.CROP.rectangle3-largeA Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night is incredible and sounds like something you would hear in a dimly lit café somewhere in Venice. The arrangements are spectacular (a tip of the cap to conductor and arranger Gordon Jenkins) and the production is absolutely perfect (thanks to Derek Taylor’s clean and crisp vision). This record is one part comfort and two parts fervor.

The real genius in this record lies within Harry’s ability to take a bunch of standards, sung previously by the likes of Nat Cole, Judy Garland or Frank Sinatra, and transform them into songs that feel more like “In My Life” (Beatles) than “That’s Life” (Sinatra). Nilsson was capable of taking these classic cuts and nudging them into the modern era with a contemporary twist. Even in 2014, these songs feel more like tracks from a lost Ben Folds album rather than songs you might hear at a rundown karaoke bar.

Nilsson’s tone is welcoming on nearly every song, especially album opener “Lazy Moon” and “You Made Me Love You (I Didn’t Want to Do It).” Delicate string arrangements accompany his captivating voice all throughout A Little Touch with a prime example being the echoing orchestration on “For Me And My Gal.” But the highlight of his singing abilities is shown during the falsetto breakdown of “This Is All I Ask.”

Nilsson and Lennon John Lennon always spoke of Harry with very high regard and is reported as saying, “Nilsson’s my favorite group.” Nilsson has clearly mastered the art of dynamics with a perfect vocal delivery on every song. The album’s closer “As Time Goes By” sounds familiar at first but it quickly becomes apparent that Harry’s take feels warmer than any previous versions.

Each song takes the listener to a place where wine glasses never empty, the fireplace never goes out and good conversation never ends with tracks both full of comfort (“What’ll I Do”) and familiarity (“Always”).

Final View:  While the songs are borrowed, the passion is unique and Harry’s vocals are unmatched. Whether or not they realize it, the Adeles and Bublés owe something to Mr. Nilsson for bridging the gap between vintage 1940s singers and contemporary artists. A Little Touch gives you a taste of life where everything feels settled and placed right where it should be.

Overall score: 8.5/10

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