Album: Randy Newman

The Randy Newman Songbook Vol 1, Nonesuch
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The Independent Culture

Randy Newman's debut release for Nonesuch is the first of a projected three-volume retrospective of his repertoire, re-recorded by the songwriter to the sole accompaniment of his piano. As such, it echoes his 1971 live album, except that where those earlier renditions of classics such as "Living Without You" and "I Think It's Going to Rain Today" were hurried and abrupt, almost as if Newman were embarrassed at his own presumption in appearing before an audience, these versions are leisurely and assured, the work of an artist more at ease with his reputation. The difference is clear from the opening track, "It's Lonely at the Top", the double-edged musing upon celebrity which concluded Randy Newman Live: here, the tone is less acidly cynical and more reflective and mature. But his trademark sardonicism has not been totally cauterised: the equal-opportunity agnosticism of "God's Song" - in which the deity rains lofty contempt upon believers of all faiths - is still bitterly effective, while "Political Science" is even more pertinent, with its satirically dismissive, US-yahoo view of the rest of the world. The latter is Newman playing devil's advocate (as on the slaver's entreaty "Sail Away", the bullish "Rednecks" and the self-explanatory "It's Money That I Love"), which hindered his acceptance at a time when earnest sincerity was the hallmark of singer-songwriter values. But as "Living Without You" and "I Think It's Going To Rain Today" demonstrate, he has always been capable of writing poignant, tender, painfully introspective songs.

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