Release Date: Aug 5, 2008
Record label: Nonesuch
I’ve waited a long time to review something by Randy Newman, who I believe to be just a notch below Bob Dylan in the pantheon of great American songwriters of the past 50 years. In fact I find his music, the harmonies he uses below his melodies, to be so compelling that it’s almost impossible for me to skip over him when his songs come up on my iPod, even if I’ve heard them a thousand times. I love his wit, his irony and his intelligence, but there’s something in the music for me that defies rational analysis.
The world (still) isn't fair, but the gimlet-eyed songwriter keeps singing about itMany albums I receive in the mail include an artist bio that describes something other than the album I’m listening to. Emo bands cite Van Morrison influences. Metal ensembles insist their album isn’t like all the rest; that it features more in the way of inventive melody.
This is Randy Newman's fourth studio album in 20 years. He is comfortably into his mid-60s and his soundtrack work (Monsters Inc, Toy Story, Cars) more than pays the bills, so, if he does release a record, it has to say something. For a UK audience, about half of this does. Anyone who doesn't actually live for updates from Iowan caucuses can safely skip the whole ragtime politicking middle section and, instead, enjoy the work of a true master of popular song.
It's nine years since Randy Newman's last album of new songs but, it seems, it's something like a miracle he's produced this one at all. He begins with a bluesy account of a near-death experience, a knee-trembling, heart-pounding episode that leaves him, for the purposes of the song at least, face down on the pavement unexpectedly facing his maker. The sound of harps and angels comes from God's backing singers as the judgment is delivered: 'You ain't been a good man, you ain't been a bad man...' Newman's tone is blacker than ever, both in pitch and comedy; the voice here aspires to the condition of Ray Charles with his evangelical piano.
With his first recording in nine years, Randy Newman says adios. Not to his music career of 40-something years but to the U. S.