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Nilsson Sings Newman by Harry Nilsson []



1970’s Nilsson Sings Newman is an example of the potential for beauty in popular music.  Randy Newman, not then a household name, was approached by tenor extraordinaire Harry Nilsson about making an album.  Nilsson was a fan of Newman’s effortless melodies, thoughtful chord structures and clever lyrical ability.
Nilsson Sings Newman features only the two artists in question.  Newman composes the songs and handles the piano playing duties; Nilsson sings.  The simplicity of this set up lends itself to display dynamics and emotive arrangements which do not seem to exist in most contemporary recordings.
Nilsson took great care in recording his vocals on the album.  It is rumored that on some songs, pieces of 100 or so takes were spliced together (and remember this was using multitrack tape).  He also layered his voice to produce heavenly, Beach Boys-esque harmonies in appropriate places.  The refrain of the opener “Vine St.” or the sublime “Caroline” perfectly exemplify the richness of his harmony singing.
The album is full of story songs that in some places are nostalgic for the past.  Lyrically, Nilsson Sings Newman feels like a truly American experience.  Songs about cowboys, the Midwest and leaving home fill the record.  As expected from Randy Newman, humor plays a large part as well.  Nilsson, always a fan of silliness and inside jokes, contributes to the humor by insisting that certain off mic instructions by Newman be left on the final version.
Nilsson Sings Newman is an album that is graceful, funny and technologically impressive.  It’s great on headphones and it’s one of those albums that I’ll never tire of listening.

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