This is the Town
A Tribute to Nilsson Volume 1
Royal Potato Family
One approaches tribute albums with a bit of trepidation. Remaking an artists material can swing from polite homages that don’t rise above karaoke to radical reshapings of familiar material that sounds nothing at all like what inspired the work in the first place. Thankfully for those of us that love Harry Nilsson’s unique place in pop music This is the Town largely steers clear of both.
Produced and recorded by Kenny Siegal, the album starts off on a funky note with “Early in the Morning” by Langhorne Slim, with rolling piano from Marco Benevento (who does a great “Are You Sleeping?” later on). Next up is Dawn Landes with “You’re Breakin’ My Heart”, and the sweet lilting vocals of Landes are a nice touch singing the somewhat acerbic lyrics- “You’re breakin’ my heart/It tears me apart/fuck you”. The genius of Harry Nilsson was two-fold. First, he was one of the greatest vocalists our country ever nurtured, on a par with Sinatra (just listen to Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night, his standards album, to confirm). Thankfully no one here attempts to “out Nilsson” Nilsson- not that anyone could.
Instead they focus on his other gift, the wonderful songwriting. From rockers such as “Jump Into The Fire” (by Low Cut Annie) to the great pop melodies such as “Gotta Get Up” (lovingly done by his daughter, Annie Nilsson) and the wacky “Coconut”, Nilsson had a talent for a memorable melodic line that still sounds fresh all these years later. This is the Town has a few moments of off the wall experiments, such as the cello-led Rasputina’s take on “Sweethaven” or the Indian-flavored “Without You” by Church of Betty, whose choice of sitar and tabla sound a bit incongruous on one of Nilsson’s most touching songs, but all in all, Harry Nilsson is well-served by this tribute, obviously performed by artists that hold his special gifts close to their hearts. Volume 2 can’t come soon enough!