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• Harry Nilsson

In a 1974 BBC special that Harry Nilsson did to promote A Little Touch Of Schmilsson In The Night, there's a wonderful moment when he finishes singing "Over The Rainbow," with full orchestra backing, and the venerable conductor-arranger Gordon Jenkins turns to him, nods and says, "I do believe, I do believe."

In his day, Jenkins arranged albums for Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, and Nat King Cole. He knew from good vocalists. You get the sense that he was not easily impressed, especially not by rock musicians. But Harry made a believer of him. Anyone who's listened to Nilsson knows that it's nearly impossible to resist his charms as a singer. Sure, he has a multi-octave range and near perfect pitch, but it's the mix of pathos and humor in his voice that turn the latchkey to your heart. Like his lifelong hero Stan Laurel (the thumb-as-lighter album cover is a nod to Stan), Nilsson could make you laugh and weep within the space of a few seconds (listen to "Lullaby In Ragtime").

Originally released in 1973, this album followed Harry's commercial breakthroughs Nilsson Schmilsson and Son Of Schmilsson. It was a bold move, as it marked the first time a rock singer had crossed the generation gap to record a whole album of standards. Unlike a lot of the vocalists who take the tuxedo route today--I admire Rod Stewart, but I can't buy him as a crooner--Nilsson had a natural feel for the Great American Songbook.

Inspired by Jenkins' suite Manhattan Tower (a favorite of Nilsson's when he was a kid), A LittleTouch traces the arc of a relationship--from the wide-eyed courtship of "Lazy Moon" to the philosophical "As Time Goes By"--with songs segueing into each other via orchestral passages that hint at what's to come. It's an ingenious concept that ties the album together as a true sentimental journey.

This reissue adds six bonus tracks, culminating in the heart-stopping "Over The Rainbow." Like Gordon Jenkins, I do believe. • Bill DeMain

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