Harry Nilsson

As Time Goes By

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Harry Nilsson was always a maverick artist, following his own sense of style down the hallways of pop, turning out carefully crafted -- even baffling -- songs that shared no direct affinity with any other artist of his day, although in some ways he resembled Randy Newman (even recording a marvelous album of Newman covers). Both men drew on American Tin Pan Alley traditions, but while Newman used them to craft his own ironic view of the little cruelties and kindnesses of the human condition, there was a part of Nilsson that always wanted to actually be a part of that tradition, making him, in some ways, a singer stuck out of time. In 1973 he released A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night, an album of pop standards from the pre-rock era done with the arranging and conducting help of Gordon Jenkins, who had worked in a similar role with such musicians as Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Benny Goodman, and Louis Armstrong. The album was not particularly well received by Nilsson's rock fans, and when a sort of sequel, A Touch More Schmilsson in the Night, was released in 1988, hardly anyone noticed. As Time Goes By combines both albums into one strong sequence, and it affords a chance to take another look at this phase of Nilsson's career. Always a fine song interpreter (his version of the Badfinger song "Without You" stands as the definitive one, for instance, as does his rendition of Fred Neil's "Everybody's Talkin'"), Nilsson's lyrical phrasing on such standards here as the title tune, "As Time Goes By," and Gus Kahn and Walter Donaldson's "Makin' Whoopee" is nothing short of astounding, redefining and breathing life into them for a new era. Always a master of the hushed nuance, the gentle dignity and sincerity of Nilsson's singing stands at the very heart of this album. Jenkins' full orchestra arrangements don't intrude, but augment and support the delicate twists and turns of Nilsson's phrasing, making this a wonderfully realized romantic album (in the best sense of the word). Having both albums together like this actually makes for a stronger presentation of these timeless songs, and while fans of Nilsson's rockier side may well be disappointed by As Time Goes By, it is, in some ways, a more revealing release than any other in his canon.

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