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

Lovedrug – Wild Blood : It’s A Killer, Not A Filler

What makes an album great? Is it the slick production that gets you? Maybe it’s the goosebumps that show up when you’re cruising down a dark highway and you hear a melody that just wont escape your head.

For me, it can be simple at times to tell when an album is great. The instruments will blend together like they were born for each other. In the same sense, vocals will sound like they don’t need any instrumental accompaniment to make sense and the lyrics that make an instant impact.

But usually, it takes a much more complicated scenario combined with the above to formulate what I consider to be a “great” album. Sometimes it’s a carefully choreographed soundscape consisting of one crunching guitar resounding through my left ear – while my right side is treated to a glistening lead guitar riff full of reverb and treble.  One factor that remains consistent is the need for me to listen to the album over and over (when I wake up all I want is to hear that one part of that one song). 

This “complicated” scenario can be found all over Lovedrug’s latest release titled Wild Blood. To categorize Lovedrug as an alternative band or even put them somewhere near the rock genre  immediately places restraints on a group of artists that have developed an album worthy of being described as entrancingly ingenious. Wild Blood combines beauty, sadness, virtue, energy and hope into an album that constantly blurs genres and rules.

One of my favorite tracks of the last year can be found on this album, the prehistorically named Dinosaur.  It starts with the bold lyric, “Fever – drugs – money – blood. Is it bad for love?”.  Dinosaur is a very different song both lyrically and musicaly compared to what I would usually consider to be my favorite cut on an album. The chugging rhythm guitar is answered with a clean lead guitar melody that gets you prepared for the chorus. “We were dinosaurs in the end…like we’d opt out of survival in lieu of some survival pretense”, referring to a companionship doomed from the start for extinction – something every romantic can relate to with a past relationship. In the middle of the song lead singer Michael Shepard whispers “we were”, making sure you are still listening and ready to be haunted for the rest of the cut.

Listen to Dinosaur here:

Another standout track, Pink Champagne, begins with circling cymbals and solid snare drum snaps. Everything feels like a pop song trudging through molasses until the chorus hits and everything changes. “Sure shot – you were always my sure shot” – describes someone whose guaranteed plans fell completely apart. As with every song on Wild Blood, this track combines solid rhythm work with a remarkable vocal melody.  Happiness can be found in the sadness (at least for the listener) because of the melancholic beauty trembling from this track.

Listen to Pink Champagne here:

Other notable tracks include the simplistically epic Premonition, the insanely catchy Your Country and the tender ballad Girl where Shepard’s vocals have never sounded better.

Overall this album contains some serious guitar work coupled with impressive drumming and solid bass backing. The vocals are on a whole different level as most songs could be listened to with no instrumentation needed. While Shepard previously resembled a young Billy Corgan, on Wild Blood he has found a home for his voice. That home is right at the point where beauty and chaos meet.

*Recommended if you like: Muse, Thrice – Beggars, and anything from piano rock to 90’s alternative

Download this album here: http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/wild-blood/id496739871

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