Thursday, June 20, 2013
Harry Nilsson - Aerial Ballet (1968)
Aerial Ballet gets its title from Nilsson's Swedish grandparents who were trapeze artists, so while the album cover suggests something a little different, the truth is in the name. This album was quite influential in its day, having been a favorite of the Beatles to the point that they requested copies of the album to give away. Aerial Ballet opens with "Daddy's Song," a personal song about Nilsson's own father, who left he and his mother at a very young age. The track starts with a very positive view of the early events of his life, but quickly turns negative despite keeping a very uptempo, energetic mood. "Good Old Desk" is a track that might be best described as a "poetic still life" of a tune. While the tune is about a desk, it is described in very poetic terms with Nilsson often resorting to personification. "Don't Leave Me" is one of my favorites from the album and probably one of the strongest tracks on the album. The gradual layering that builds to the chorus really gives the track a nice progression. The tune is written in a sort of bossa nova style, with the original statement of melody by Nilsson and guitar is later augmented by strings and brass. "Mr. Richland's Favorite Song" is the story of musician who gradually fades out of the spotlight until the musician knows "all of his fans by name." It's tracks like this that showcase Nilsson's real strength as a lyricist. "Little Cowboy" is actually a bedtime song that Nilsson's mother sang for him as a child. I'm unsure if the verse and the harmony was actually realized before Nilsson recorded the song, but I doubt that it did. The next track is "Together" which has some nice building moments queued by the strings, and is nicely arranged albeit simple. "Everybody's Talkin'" is probably the most well-known track of this album having been used in the music for Urban Cowboy. Written by singer-songwriter Fred Neil, the tune has a folk quality despite the string accompaniment. "I Said Goodbye to Me" is most interesting for its rhythms. The song is primarily in 3/4, but sneaks in a bar of 2/4 at the end of the 8 bar phrase. The song is also unique for incorporating spoken word as the song progresses. "Little Cowboy (Reprise)" seems to be a homage to old Western films with the melody being whistled, with Nilsson only coming with vocals at the very end of the track. "Mr. Tinker" is very similar to "Mr. Richland's Favorite Song" in subject matter as it tells the sad tale of a tailor. "One" will be recognized by most listeners, but listeners are most likely more familiar with the Three Dog Night cover. The original Nilsson version is a bit more mellow, and sad-sounding with the driving organ and melodious flute accompaniment. "The Wailing of the Willow" like "Don't Leave Me" seems to be influenced in some respect by bossa nova. The maracas, background vocals, and the strings seem to be reminiscent of Jobim or Sergio Mendes to some degree. The album closes with "Bath," with to some degree seems to be reminiscent of big band music when the brass plays bluesy "shout choruses." Nilsson's real strength seems to lie in experimentation and a myriad of influences coming together to create a unique singer-songwriter sound, but his tracks aren't always the strongest musically speaking. There are some great tracks on the album, but every track is not consistently great. Still, if you are interested in singer-songwriter music of the late 1960s to early 1970s, you should definitely give this album a listen.