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Cirque Du Soleil
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Spotlights [Issue # 5 ]
Randy Newman: Immortal Songbook

By Lynne Bronstein

T he story goes that legendary Los Angeles writer Charles Bukowski was once seen at a Randy Newman concert, after which he declared: "Randy Newman is immortal," A journalist who was told this didn’t hear it right and said "Did you say that Randy Newman is immoral?"

Both words could describe the popular opinion of Randy Newman' s songwriting. The rumpled fellow who writes movie scores and bouncy tunes for animated films also had a hit with "Short People," a mock putdown of the vertically challenged that was taken seriously by many people. Some equally trenchant tunes appear on Newman's new Nonesuch album, The Randy Newman Songbook Vol. 1, the first of a three-album career retrospective.

"This was something I did at the behest of the record company, really," says Newman. "It wasn’t something I would have thought to do necessarily - memorialize my own songs. It's kind of interesting to me to do this project because it does play to history in a way . . ."

The project involved Newman sitting down at the piano with producer Mitchell Froom and re-recording an assortment of songs from his more than thirty years of writing and recording. There’s no accompaniment other than Newman himself at the keyboard (a reminder of how a musician with skilled fingers can produce varying sound dynamics). For those who over the years have admired Newman’s songwriting talent but had doubts about his rough-and-tumble vocals, he observes: "Thankfully, Mitchell suggested a number of key changes so I wasn’t croaking at people on songs like 'Marie' and 'Living Without You.' I think I sing better now which is one of the reasons I didn't mind doing this album."

The songs included go back as far as the wistful ode to loneliness, "I Think It's Going To Rain Today," (recorded by Judy Collins before Newman himself had made an album), and incorporate several of the immortal "nasties" from 1972 's Sail Away - the title song, in which Africans are lured into slavery in America, "You Can Leave Your Hat On," "God's Song (That's Why I Love Mankind)," and “Political Science" [Ed: Listen to this song on the ONE WAY CD] in which Newman, as devil's advocate, suggests that America "drop the big one" on all other nations, except Australia ("Don’t want to hurt no kangaroos"). There are some recent songs in a similar vein (1999’s "The Great Nations of Europe" from Bad Love), that wrap up the album. "Yeah it's sort of the political section, if you’ll excuse the expression," laughs Newman.

For those who want to hear a new version of "Short People" and more of Newman’s movie tunes (a few instrumentals from his film scores are included on Volume I), they'll have to wait for the next installment, which will also be on the Nonesuch label. In the meantime, they can enjoy a fair sampling of Randy Newman’s lyrical "immorality." "I’m interested in how people hear this album," he says. "It’s not an unrepresentative bunch of songs. It's not necessarily the best of them, but it’s good enough."

Songbook Vol 1

Immortal Songbook Randy Newman Songbook Vol 1

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