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Randy Newman

by David Greenberger on November 10, 2011


In 2003, the year he turned 60, Randy Newman released his Songbook Vol. 1. While eight years seems like a long time to return to the studio to reconsider songs from his own catalog, alone at the piano, it is in keeping with the general rate of his output over the past four decades. He also released an album of new material in 2008 (Harps and Angels), and continued to primarily work the main income-bearing path of his career: composing soundtracks. All this is to say that The Randy Newman Songbook Vol. 2 was well worth the wait. This volume again draws from the entirety of Newman’s output, even including “Losing You” from his most recent album. He’s been performing regularly for the past decade, and the comfort he projects with his voice and playing is evident, here warmly rendered in a set of songs co-produced by Mitchell Froom and Lenny Waronker (who’s known Newman since they were boys). It is by turns regal, sly and vulnerable; this simple, direct setting embraces the emotional heart of small vignettes (“Sandman’s Coming,” “Same Girl”) and broader social observations (“Baltimore,” in which his voice reaches for notes purposely set just to the very edge of his range, underscoring the narrative’s tug-of-war between beauty and decay). His more overtly constructed, commentary-driven characters shine as well, their theatrical details given sharp focus by the solitary nature of the performance (“My Life Is Good, “Last Night I Had a Dream”). Here’s hoping The Randy Newman Songbook Vol. 3 appears while he’s still in his 60s.