By the time we lost Harry Nilsson to a no-surprise heart attack at the age of 52, his last commercial release was 14 years behind him. “Flash Harry,” recorded in ’79 and released the following year exclusively in the U.K. and Japan, found a somewhat rehabilitated Nilsson holding the notes, albeit with a significantly reduced version of his once-stunning 3 ½ octave range.
Finally released in the U.S. only six years ago, rabid Harry fans like myself assumed that aside from random alternative mixes and ignored recordings that found homes as bonus tracks on the extensive and lovingly remastered reissue series on Sony BMG, the well of worthwhile Nilsson recordings was finally deplete.
Boy, were we wrong. As has been dutifully reported by the music press over the past several months, it turns out that at the time of his early departure, Nilsson was starting to hammer out new recordings with his friend and producer Mark Hudson. The one time, one-third of the Hudson Brothers musical comedy trio was continuing his evolution as a pop music producer who -- let’s be honest about it -- pays tribute to the recordings of The Beatles on nearly every track bearing his credit, most notably on the newly issued, “Losst and Founnd.”
Sonic references to the Fab Four are at home on a Nilsson album, considering the mutual admiration society he developed with the band, especially John Lennon and Ringo Starr. Aside from eventually becoming friends with the group, Nilsson wore their influence on his music with pride, though his songs and cover recordings were so strong and accessible that John Lennon famously stated, “Nilsson’s my favorite group.”
Though there is no indication in the liner notes as to how far along Nilsson and Hudson were when Harry said his goodbyes, it’s safe to assume that most of the heavy lifting was completed decades after the fact. Throughout the album, Nilsson’s voice is in less than stellar condition, but in overall better shape than on “Pussy Cats,” recorded and produced in 1974 by John Lennon when the two were knee-deep in what came to be known as Lennon’s 18-month lost weekend. Whereas the Cats tracks feature a Nilsson whose voice sounds nearly torn to shreds, the 11 recordings that comprise “Losst and Founnd” find Harry with a significantly narrowed vocal range that is more or less clear and in key, if rough around the edges and occasionally monotone.
As an album, “Losst and Founnd” mostly sounds exactly like what it is, i.e. a collection of unfinished songs that were completed long after the fact. But, whereas another, similar posthumous effort, Jeff Lynne’s production of George Harrison’s last album, “Brainwashed,” resulted in a collection that fit comfortably in the artist’s catalog without sounding like a compendium of leftovers, “Losst...” is an affectionate though unnecessary product with recordings that were better left to the bonus tracks category rather than a polished presentation as a new Nilsson album.
Big on compression and overdubs, it’s impossible to tell who played on which sessions, other than the safe bet that Nilsson’s son Kiefo, who contributes bass on six of the album’s 11 tracks, is the most recent arrival. While the liner notes don’t go into many details about the recording and later-day production, there is plenty of compression to go around, making this album a natural fit for the current state of popular recordings.
Side note: Omnivore Recordings was considerate enough to send both mp3 and WAV files for this review. Not surprising, the full-resolution tracks absolutely slaughter the mp3’s on every device. From a desktop computer audio system to a DAP and my full home audio rig, “Losst and Founnd” is a sonic illustration of why compressed MP3 files should be left by the roadside. The differences in clarity, range and detail are clear and indisputable.
But I digress. To my ears, “Losst...” is an album by and for lovers of all things Harry, and there are enough standouts to make it worth the investment of time and dollars, assuming you still believe music is worth paying for. (I do.) The opening title track may be heavy on reverb and vocal effects to downplay the anomalies in Nilsson’s voice, but its upbeat tempo and lyrics help make it a fun piece of pop and an appropriate foundation for the rest of the album.
Like most of the songs on “Losst..,” the opener is more of a tribute to Hudson’s acumen as a producer than it is indicative of Nilsson’s talent as a vocalist. Not that it’s a bad thing, considering the former’s talent in the studio. And, like most the album, the mix sounds just right both on headphones and in-room speakers. But, unlike other modern mixes that place the listener in the 10th row of a concert hall or the center of a jazz club, the sound here reminded me of being in loud club where acoustical shortcomings are compensated by excessive volume.
Among the tracks worth repeat listening is “Listen the Snow is Falling,” which marks the third release of a Nilsson-covers-Ono track, the other two appearing on the now out-of-print Yoko covers album, “Every Man Has a Woman.” Nilsson’s voice is permitted to stand above the backing tracks, bringing a taste of what made his chops special in his prime. Sure, there’s plenty of reverb, but there is no mistaking that he is the star of this recording. Similarly, “Woman Oh Woman,” one of the least adulterated songs on the album, is heavy on studio effects but not enough to overwhelm the vocal. In fact, “Woman Oh Woman” would fit comfortably in the artist’s pre-Schmilsson catalog, production and all.
The same can’t be said of the anthemic “Try,” which sounds as if the band is attempting to play over the singer’s attempt to lead the crowd in a sing-along. Likewise, “Yo Dodger Blue” smothers Nilsson in backup singers and an overwhelming backing track that seems designed to mask his then-shortcomings in front of the microphone. Our publisher, Harris Fogel, agrees that the song is a fitting tribute to our country's best baseball team.
Listening to “Losst and Founnd” is indeed a pleasure for Nilsson fans who are hungry for newly discovered tracks. Personally, I’d like to hear the original stripped-down versions for a more accurate snapshot of how he fared near the end. For that matter, a detailed account of when the tracks were originally laid down would be welcome. But we take what we can get, and this album is a worthwhile fix for obsessive fans like myself. But if you’re new to Nilsson, or know him exclusively as guy who recorded, “Without You” and other select tunes, I strongly suggest beginning with the excellent compilation, “Personal Best.” Save “Losst and Founnd” for that inevitable moment when you’re ravenous for all the Harry you can get.
Adam Sohmer, posted 11/23/2019
For more information on “Losst and Founnd” by Harry Nilsson, Omnivore Recordings visit: http://omnivorerecordings.com/shop/losst-and-founnd/