It's no secret that Harry Nilsson's last decade was not an easy one. Traumatized by the murder of John Lennon, Nilsson worked for gun control while he dabbled in projects for the screen and stage, issuing the occasional track as part of a various-artists compilation. When he died in 1993, it had been 13 years since he released Flash Harry, an amiable mess that wound up being his last studio album. Just because there was no new record in the stores didn't mean that Nilsson stopped writing and recording music. During his last years, he was working on a new album with producer Mark Hudson, a recording that stayed untouched (but was often bootlegged) for a good quarter-century before Hudson polished off the tapes for 2019's posthumous collection Losst and Founnd.
Hudson was working with rough demos, so it took him some considerable effort to polish these 11 tracks for official release. He enlisted a crew of Nilsson pals, including Jimmy Webb and Van Dyke Parks, to flesh out the tapes, adding Kiefo Nilsson -- Harry's son who was only eight when his father passed -- to the roster of studio pros laboring to bring these tunes to completion. Remarkably, Hudson and friends wound up with a finished product that feels like a Harry Nilsson album. This hardly means that Losst and Founnd is an album without flaws. The seams are necessarily evident in its construction, with Harry's voice -- which, it has to be acknowledged, was a rough instrument in his last days -- sometimes buried by the new overdubs. It's also true that the source material is a bit scattershot, with Nilsson undercutting his loveliest moments with goofy novelties and clever exercises in nostalgia. This mix of sincerity and snark is part of the reason why Losst and Founnd actually feels like a Nilsson album: he relied on this blend on virtually every record he made after his 1971 commercial breakthrough Nilsson Schmilsson. Hudson respects this aspect of Harry's personality and, better still, he doesn't endeavor to make these recordings sound modern. Everything he's added to the existing tapes helps Losst and Founnd seem like an album Nilsson might have released during the George W. Bush era, thereby providing a bittersweet and necessary coda to his career. It also adds some very good songs to his catalog, including the symphonic saloon song "What Does a Woman See in a Man," the light and lovely "Lullabye," and the slyly witty "U.C.L.A.," which takes stock of a world in the midst of a disorienting change. Maybe it's not perfect, but it's more than enough to be an unexpected gift from Harry, one that he deserves as much as his devoted fans.