Release Date: January 2020
Formats: CD/vinyl (https://www.stevehoggmusic.com/)
One of those ‘lost classic’ albums, this time featuring the combined talents of Harry Nilsson and Randy Newman which has been re-created by British singer/songwriter, Steve Hogg, some 50 years after its release.
This is a real labour of love. Or one that ranks up with the time Victor Kiam was so impressed that he bought the company. Back in 1970, Hogg loved the Nilsson Sings Newman album so much that he’s returned to it to create his own version, solo with piano.
However, best intentions and all, the project has grown to include a cast of over twenty additional musicians and a gospel choir all recorded at the Gabriel owned Real World Studios.
Of course, the polish is fully deserving of a set of songs from a classic songwriter. Most of us will have Harry Nilsson in our heads from his #1 hit Without You in the seventies and from his friendship with John Lennon. Newman, of course, is now a renowned and highly regarded songwriter and composer although the Nilsson/Newman partnership can be traced back to the singer embracing Newman’s fledgling songwriting skills for that 1970 album. What Steve Hogg calls “a perfect match of singer and songwriter.”
So to the songs. Eleven selections, from Vine Street to Snow that showcase a pretty full range of the Newman oeuvre. The former’s rock and roll bounce giving way to a vaudevillian part, the latter a recreation that didn’t appear on the original album.
For a set of songs written in the sixties that have a typically easy grace, and there’s a timeless quality and a chance to reflect on their relevance and resonance today. Hidden away in the smooth flow are themes of gender politics, racism and the typical Newman topics of ageing, love and loss. A sign of the times maybe, but it’s rare you’ll hear “Caroline, you’re my kind of girl,” on a contemporary lyric.
For all the low key yet stately and measured passages, there’s a rare chance to let loose with some lovely honking sax on The Beehive State and you can imagine the sway of the backing singers decked in sequined creations.
A healthy dose of reflection and melancholy comes via Living Without You and I’ll Be Home and the conversational style of the jaunty So Long Dad sees the pluck of the banjo offers a grassroots vibe. For a moment there’s a brief realization that these songs are possibly the inspiration and roots of bands like Supertramp who translated the vision into the rock arenas.
Last word though to Steve having launched the album in December in his front room – his Old Refreshment Room has played host to music from the likes of Boo Hewerdine, Jefferson Hamer, Marry Waterson, Philip Henry, Bellatrix and many others.
“Who knows, maybe after that we’ll consider taking it on the road in a stripped-down version, but in the meantime, I hope all Newman and Nilsson fans enjoy what we’ve tried to do with this great record.”
Listen to I’ll Be Home from the album here: