Harry Nilsson, ‘Losst and Founnd’ is a Belated Return from a Would-Be Superstar

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Harry Nilsson | Losst and Founnd | (Omnivore)
Rating: Four out of Five

Although known to many merely for his handful of hits — “Jump Into the Fire,” “Without You,” “Everybody’s Talkin’,” “Coconut,” “Me and My Arrow,” et. al.” — Harry Nilsson was much more than simply a superb pop singer, loved by the Beatles, an integral part of Hollywood’s notorious rat pack (whose membership also included John Lennon, Ringo Starr and Keith Moon), and an earnest carouser famous for being kicked out of L.A.’s Troubadour in the company of Lennon who famously had a tampon affixed to his head. Indeed, he was an innovative artist whose credits included the first ever remix album in music history (Aerial Pandemonium Ballet), production techniques that made Phil Spector blush with envy, a pair of Grammys, and the originator  of the stand-alone soundtrack for the animated film “The Point,” a film that rivals “Yellow Submarine” in terms of ambition and abstraction.

At the time of his death 25 years ago, a demise due to a heart attack — but no doubt exacerbated by drinking and other excesses— the artist now known simply as Nilsson had finished his vocal tracks for an album that was to be produced by his longtime colleague and confidante Mark Hudson. The record was never completed, but Hudson held on to the tapes ever since, hoping for an opportunity to bring it back to life. Aptly dubbed Losst and Found — the misspellings a reference to the double consonants in Nilsson’s name — these mostly self-penned songs are finally seeing the light of day thanks to a cast of characters that include Hudson, Van Dyke Parks,, Jimmy Webb, various members of the Nilsson clan and Nilsson himself, who also contributed keyboards, and backing vocals prior to his passing. The result is an excellent example of what Nilsson accomplished in his prime, his smooth croon, cool caress and oversized arrangements all applied with a nod and a wink, as well as the wit and whimsy that characterized his best efforts all along.

In fact, all indications are that this was to be Nilsson’s crowning achievement, a masterwork that would underscore his eccentric musings and over the top inclinations.  There’s not a single song here that’s not similarly striking, from the obvious appropriation of “All You Need Is Love,” rebooted here as “Try,” to the casual caress of “U.C.L.A.,” the surreptitious singalong “Lost and Found,” his sprightly take on Yoko Ono’s otherwise innocuous “Listen, The Snow Is Falling,” and the stomp and romp of “Yo Dodger Blue.” That this superior set of songs has been suppressed for the past quarter of a century seems all the more surprising.

A free yet fanciful spirit, Nilsson would likely be proud that his legacy lingers even now. A treasure waiting to be discovered, Losst and Founnd offers renewed reason for celebration. 

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