A love letter to the fans who’ve remained devoted to the music of Harry Nilsson.
By the time he died in 1994 at age 52, it had been more than 13 years since Harry Nilsson last released a studio album. No one would’ve been faulted for largely forgetting Nilsson’s once formidable talent as a vocalist and songwriter given both the intervening years of silence and the somewhat slipshod effort that was 1980’s Flash Harry (not to mention the hit-or-miss quality of the handful of albums he issued as the 1970s came to a close). But in the final years of his life, Nilsson was apparently attempting to remedy that, having returned to the studio to begin work on new material with friend and producer Mark Hudson. These rough demo recordings would, a quarter-century later and after many subsequent bootlegs, see proper release as the album Losst and Found.
Working with the raw material Nilsson left behind and instilling the help of longtime pals like Van Dyke Parks and Jimmy Webb, Hudson sought to complete the recordings in order to provide the world with one last Nilsson album. And despite the rough quality of the recordings that Hudson was left to work with following Nilsson’s death, the finished product sounds very much like a Nilsson album proper, albeit one closer to his late-‘70s output rather than his early-‘70s heyday.
Opening track “Lost and Found” rolls along on a sea of vocals from Nilsson and associates, augmented by massive horns and a gorgeous arrangement that allows the once-angel-voiced singer plenty of room to show off what remained of his all but shredded vocal cords. Its singsong melody sits among some of the best he managed in his lifetime, the chorus a veritable earworm that, while likely never destined to be a hit, still manages that sweet spot found in the best of Nilsson’s catalog, both familiar and utterly singular. “Woman Oh Woman” follows a similar melodic thread, sounding like a holdover from his Popeye days, the words rolling and tumbling out of his ragged voice.
He also offers a rather reverential read of Yoko Ono’s “Listen, the Snow Is Falling,” a song that no doubt must’ve been quite personal given his connection to Ono’s late husband, John Lennon. Indeed, much of Nilsson’s silence in the ‘80s could be attributed to having thrown himself into the world of gun control following the murder of his friend. Heavily reverbed and sounding very much of the 1980s, the track is a bit of an outlier on the album itself, but is nonetheless a fine contribution and yet another example of what an exemplary interpreter of the work of others Nilsson was (case in point being two of the best-known songs recorded by Nilsson, “Without You” and “Everybody’s Talkin,’” having been written by others).
“Try” plays on Nilsson’s Monty Python connection, particularly with Eric Idle, sounding like a less ironically cynical cousin to the latter’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” Meanwhile, “Yo Dodger Blue” is an anthem written for his beloved city’s baseball team that, had it been adopted, would’ve no doubt been as beloved as any number of ballpark-specific songs. Bootlegged for years, this completed version offers a glimpse of what might’ve been. “Animal Farm” shows his sense of humor to be firmly intact, the song at once ridiculous and cutting with a rather relentless hook. More so than anything else here, “Animal Farm” harkens back to his Nilsson Schmilsson-era commercial peak.
In all, Losst and Founnd isn’t a perfect album by any means, but it wasn’t designed to be. Rather, it’s a love letter to the fans who’ve remained devoted to the music of Harry Nilsson, helping spread the gospel of one of the most criminally underrated 20th-century artists well into the 21st century. And for that, we can all be thankful.