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POP MUSIC REVIEW

Singing the Praises of Harry Nilsson

June 15, 1998|SARA SCRIBNER

An iconoclastic visionary and humorist, the late singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson left an indelible mark on the '70s. At the Roxy on Saturday, a group of quirky fellow travelers--including folk-rock icon P.F. Sloan, Austin singer Kathy McCarty, Victoria Williams, the L.A. band the Negro Problem and actress-singer Ann Magnuson--honored him by performing Nilsson songs that revealed his deep sense of pathos and fearless silliness.

It was a benefit for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, a group that Nilsson--who died of heart disease in 1994 at age 52--passionately supported after the murder of his friend John Lennon.

What it revealed most was the range of Nilsson's work, and the many different ways people choose to remember him. There was the dreamy quality captured by McCarty, who offered a spine-tingling acoustic version of "One," a hit by Three Dog Night. Digging into unforgettable versions of his best and lesser-known songs were Sloan, standing out with his folk-bluesy "Jump Into the Fire," and Rob Laufer, whose "Don't Forget Me" revealed Nilsson's ability to suspend time.

It was Magnuson who brought the house down as she slipped in and out of the wacky "Coconut" and the nostalgic "Remember" and a monologue about her Nilsson experience as a 14-year-old girl dying to escape the South. Her personal story about Nilsson, "that kind of old-fashioned guy who sang old-fashioned songs," went the farthest to revive the singer's sadly fading legacy during a show filled with from-the-heart performances.

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