This is the Town: A Tribute to Nilsson (Vol. 1)
Record Label: Royal Potato Family
Release Date: Feb. 4, 2014
He’s an icon to many, a conundrum to others, but any way you look at him, there’s no denying that Harry Nilsson was a rare talent. In an effort to share Nilsson’s brilliance, Brooklyn record collective Royal Potato Family has released This is The Town: A Tribute to Nillsson, Vo. 1, a 20-track collection, featuring the likes of Langhorne Slim, Willy Mason, Marco Benevento, Dawn Landes and Tracy Bonham, among others. The disc is the brainchild of Kenny Siegal, a producer based in Catskill, NY. Many of the artists that appear on the compilation were handpicked by Siegal, who to date has worked with Joseph Arthur, Neko Case, Chris Whitley, Tears for Fears an countless others.
So how is it?
On the whole, it’s pretty inspiring. The disc opens with Slim’s version of “Early in the Morning,” an absolute firecracker and hands down one of the best songs on the album. From there, Dawn Landes leapfrogs into a jaunty and lighthearted version of the cheeky kiss-off “You’re Breaking My Heart.” One of the best songs on Side A, if not the whole disc, is The Mommyheads’ gorgeous rendition of “Me And My Arrow.” Arguably the disc’s most inspired moment is Annie and Zak Nilsson performing their father’s song “Gotta Get Up.”
Side B opens with Willy Mason’s arresting version of “Think About Your Troubles,” a song which expertly navigates fragility and delicacy in a way that deserves repeated listens. Ditto to the Yellowbirds’ hazy take on “Rainmaker” and Johanna Warren’s tour-de-force of “Without Her.” Of the other other efforts on Side B, Rasputina’s string-heavy version of “Sweethaven,” is deeply impacting and sonically one of the most impacting efforts on the album.
Side C enters with the criminally underrated Marco Benevento absolutely slaying “Are You Sleeping?,” while Tracy Bonham offers up a chilling rendition of Nilsson’s ubiquitous cut “Everybody’s Talkin’.” Arguably one of the most interesting and indelible efforts is Brian Dewan’s ethereal and slightly psychedelic version of Nilsson’s other cult hit “Coconut.” Siegal himself steps into the forefront with his band Johnny Society, whose brassy and yearning version of “Mr. Richland’s Favorite Song” is a definite winner. One of the benefits of a compilation is that there is always bound to be at least one unknown artist whose name is foreign but whose music is absolutely essential listening. Mamie Minch and her version of “Don’t Forget Me” is just that song. The disc concludes with an equally top-notch effort in the form of Josh Kaufman’s organ-heavy “I Said Goodbye to Me,” a languid and lucid rendition of a truly remarkable song.
Given all the accolades above, the disc is not without its misses. Low Cut Connie’s version of “Jump Into the Fire,” falls apart despite its best intentions, while Jenny O.’s “1941” tries too hard to be cute. Blueberry’s “Poli High” tries to shine but absolutely collapses on itself while The Wiyos’ inspired bluegrass version of “Nobody Cares About the Railroads Anymore” suffers from limp production. Other misses include Church of Betty’s regrettable rendition of “Without You.” Truth be told, the disc is awfully long and 20 tracks is far too money but one can’t fault Siegal or Royal Potato Family for trying to offer up as much of Nilsson as possible.
Whether This is The Town: Volume 1 gains any traction remains to be seen but anytime an album is made to honor Nilsson, it is most certainly worth listening to. Even with is valleys, there’s more than enough reason to get excited about the release of Volume 2 and to spend a few extra minutes this weekend diving deeper into the Nilsson discography.