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Sean Nelson | Nelson Sings Nilsson

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Harry Nilsson Randy Newman The Monkees

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United States - Tennessee

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Rock: 60's Rock Pop: Beatles-pop Moods: Type: Vocal
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Nelson Sings Nilsson

by Sean Nelson

Songs by the great American songwriter Harry Nilsson arranged for a 27-piece rock band/orchestra and sung by Sean Nelson
Genre: Rock: 60's Rock
Release Date: 

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  Song Share Time Download
1. Gotta Get Up
2:21 $0.99
2. Daddy's Song
3:18 $0.99
3. Together
2:12 $0.99
4. Think About Your Troubles
2:58 $0.99
5. Don't Forget Me
3:28 $0.99
6. Miss Butter's Lament
2:16 $0.99
7. Turn on Your Radio
3:26 $0.99
8. Without Her
3:55 $0.99
9. Down
3:30 $0.99
10. I'll Never Leave You
2:56 $0.99
11. Something True
2:20 $0.99
12. Maybe
2:47 $0.99
13. Bath
2:06 $0.99
14. Wasting My Time
3:28 album only
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
A note to the listener:

This project was conceived in 2001, when I became besotted with the Camden Deluxe reissues of Nilsson's '60s and '70s albums. I had been a great admirer of his stuff ever since being exposed to him via the standard channels (The Monkees, Midnight Cowboy, and John Lennon) but had never really dug in to the breadth and depth of his LPs. Everything about him struck a deep chord in me—the humor, the pathos, the pathos camouflaged by humor, the marriage of rock and roll and music hall, the take-me-or-leave-me attitude to the music biz, and above all, of course, the astonishing voice. Both in the singing sense and in the overarching aesthetic one. The older you get, the less common it is to feel truly addressed by rock and roll records, but the more I listened, the more every bar of Nilsson's words, melodies, arrangements, gestures hit me like those 13th century Italian poems struck the narrator of "Tangled Up in Blue."

I became totally consumed by Nilsson records for the next several months, talking to anyone who would listen (and plenty who wouldn't) about the brilliance of his unaccountably obscure (s)catalogue. By the time I found myself pulled over at the side of the road, sobbing, listening and singing along to "Don't Forget Me" on repeat, it became clear that my sense of identification with these songs had reached a critical stage.

Inspired, I thought obviously, by the 1969 masterpiece on which Harry sang the songs of a then-unknown Randy Newman, I started cooking up an idea for an album. Not a tribute in the classic sense, nor a collection of the obvious numbers—loneliest or otherwise. This would be an expression of the thrill I felt upon discovering the treasure of these albums, and an effort to evoke the musical spirit that enlivened them in a contemporary context.

And at the same time, I hoped to spread my recording and performing wings a bit, and maybe even make some kind of sidelong comment about the stupid music biz roller coaster ride I had just experienced with my then-only-recently-defunct band Harvey Danger.

The title Nelson Sings Nilsson—a two-pronged joke (Prong One: reference to Nilsson Sings Newman. Prong Two: who the hell is this Nelson character?)—made it seem inevitable. The reality was a different story. I struggled to find collaborators who shared my connection to the material or appreciated the idea the same way I did. I struggled to find support for the idea among my friends and professional colleagues, few of whom were familiar with Nilsson and nearly all of whom thought the whole project landed somewhere between pure folly and career suicide. I struggled to find people who seemed, anecdotally, to be even remotely interested in hearing such an album, were I ever to finish it.

But in all candor, though the line was never exactly around the block, I had no difficulty finding ardent volunteers in each of those categories, and I owe them all quite a bit.

The much larger struggle was with my eternal, unshakeable sense of ambivalence and futility when it comes to my own work. Without getting into the whole thing about unstable mental health (another key feature of the period during which this record was and wasn’t made; not for nothing is the disorder called "bipolar"), my ever-recurring and utterly pulverizing self-doubt was the primary antagonist to this album's progress, and the main reason it has taken 18 years to see the light of day.

For years, I jokingly-but-not-at-all-jokingly considered throwing the hard drive containing these recordings off a bridge, but decided that the gesture lacked the panache of the Replacements throwing their Twin/Tone masters into the river—mainly since no one would be chasing after me looking for it, but also because hard drives don’t roll. A couple of times, small independent labels expressed meaningful interest in releasing the album, then went out of business before I could get into any real trouble with them, which was ultimately a blessing.

I never lost faith in the essential idea, never doubted the weird glory of the recordings. But as I got further and further away from pursuing a proper career, the whatness of the concept became increasingly obscure. Also, my personal life happened. Also, multiple other creative projects took precedence. Also, money, for real. Also, over the course of five presidential administrations, the world became a total nightmare. Also, the music industry contracted so dramatically that putting out a record and not putting out a record became more or less indistinguishable acts in most circumstances. At a certain point, it really was like "why bother?" And not in a petulant sense. Not histrionically, but practically: Why bother putting out this or any other record simply because I made it?

I don't pretend to have an answer for that now, other than the one inscribed right there in the very first song on the record: "We never thought we'd get older/ We never thought we'd grow cold, but now..."

The best choice I made in the entire process was asking Mark Nichols to be a part of it. "A part of it" is an absurd euphemism. Mark arranged every song, recorded all the basic tracks, performed and conducted the arrangements at a handful of very memorable full orchestra shows, and accompanied me in a series of duo shows over the years. He is one of those people who can barely blink without 500 amazing musical ideas tumbling all over the place.

Mark and I met when we both participated in the 14/48 theater festival in Seattle in early 2006. His name seemed familiar. When I put it together that he was the guy who had done all the orchestral parts on Jeremy Enigk's Return of the Frog Queen, a record that massively expanded my musical consciousness, I knew he would be exactly the one to help translate my somewhat abstract ambition and Nilsson's incomparable style into an actual record. The only surprise was how vastly his work surpassed my most fanciful hopes.

The second unequivocal stroke of luck came several years later, after at least two major abandonments, enlisting my friend Steve Fisk to help me dust the tracks off, polish them up, and call them, once and for all, good. Steve is one of the great musical minds, a brilliant problem solver, and the very soul of everything I love about NW rock’n’roll. Gore Vidal famously said there are two opportunities you should never turn down: having sex and appearing on television. I’d add working with Steve Fisk to that list any day.

It's been gratifying to see Nilsson's name and work grow in stature as the years have elapsed. For several years when I would mention the title of this record to people (expecting an uproarious laugh, a bear hug, and maybe a record deal) the response would be somewhere between a blank stare and that look people used to give their drug dealer when they were worried the was about to cue up his 4-track demos. Nowadays, a lot more people know who and what a Nilsson is and even appreciate the two-pronged reference in the title.

Some credit for this must surely belong to John Scheinfeld's documentary, Who is Harry Nilsson (and Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him)? (More context: Mark and I played Nilsson songs at the premiere screening of that film at the Seattle International Film Festival in 2006.) Several key film and TV placements, tribute albums, and namechecks have also surely lubricated the gears along the way. But we all know who deserves the real gratitude. I like to think the Nilsson revival is more a question of the eternal vicissitudes of artistic recognition finally working in favor of a truly worthy subject. You have to have faith that records as weird and good and funny and sad as the ones Harry Nilsson made won't end up like so much rusty ammunition left out in the rain.

(We probably should've done that one, too.)

And though I can no longer lay claim to being ahead of any kind of curve with this album, it's nice to think it'll be entering a more hospitable world than it might have during any of the past 17 years. I suppose by that logic I could just keep waiting, but why be indulgent?

Sean Nelson
Nashville, TN
May, 2019


Engineered by Mark Nichols
Additional Engineering by Steve Fisk
Mixed by Steve Fisk
Produced by Mark Nichols and Steve Fisk
Directed by Sean Nelson


Sean Nelson: Lead and Harmony Vocals
Steve Newton: Bass
John Hollis Fleishman: Drums
Mark Nichols: Piano, Baritone Sax, Organ, Moog
Aaron Taylor: Electric Guitar
Thomas Hunter: Electric Guitar, Bass
Aidan Fay: Acoustic Guitar, Pump Organ
Julie Lewis: Backing Vocals
Mari Finch: Backing Vocals
Katy Webber: Backing Vocals
Pajama Party: Backing Vocals
Larry Golding: Violin
Jakob Breitbach: Violin
Stephen Daniels: Violin
John Osebold: Violin
Ken Wright: Violin
Evan Mosher: Trumpet
Rob Witmer: Clarinet, Saxophone, Accordion
Kevin Hinshaw: Saxophone
Sari Breznau: Trumpet
Eric Padget: Trumpet
Adrian Witherspoon: Trombone
Salamandir: Tuba
Rob Knop: Piano

Thank You:

Chandra Farnsworth, Kurt Deutsch, Johnny Sangster, Flanagan and everyone at Largo (onstage and off-), Jon Brion, John Osebold, Evan Mosher, Basil Harris, Kirk Anderson, John Ackermann, David Nixon, Rob Witmer, Kathryn Rathke, Rob Knop, Gavin Guss, Robyn Hitchcock, Emma Swift, Scott McCaughey, Peter Buck, Bill Rieflin, David Depper, Joan LeMay, Lewi Longmire, Jacob Hoffman, Kyle O’Quin, Aaron Benson, Thomas Hunter, the artists formerly known as Kay Kay and His Weathered Undergound, Erin Jorgensen, Brittain Ashford, Shane Tutmarc, Tanya Montana Coe, all the amazing Seattle musicians who played on the record and at the handful of live shows over the years, and everyone who professed an interest in hearing these recordings during the many periods when I felt like this whole project was the wrong kind of folly.

Special Thanks:

Mark Nichols, for your superb talent and legendary patience. Thank you for translating a ludicrous premise into truly inspired music. I can't wait till we play it again.

Steve Fisk, for throwing a lasso around a ton of unruly elements and pulling until it sounded right, as you always do.

Shenandoah Davis, for six years of insisting this record was worth finishing and that only a fool would give up on it.

Aaron Huffman, for all of it.



to write a review


A Must for Sean and Harry Fans
As a fan of Harry Nilsson this album peaked my interest as soon as I heard about it being made. At this point I don't remember when I first heard about it only that I could never seem to find it anywhere or news on when it would be coming out. What I think most people miss with Harry is the emotional depth of everything he does that I think you only really appreciate when you consume his music in its vastness. With this album you hear that Sean gets Harry on a deep level and it comes through in the nuances of his singing of Harry’s songs. If you love Harry Nilsson I don’t see how you won’t appreciate Sean Nelson’s excellent retelling of his songs. It would have been a shame if this album would have ended up at the bottom of a river somewhere. Thank you Sean for not throwing it in.