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Randy Newman: Sail Away (Reprise 9272032)


...and, I damn well don’t wanna hear any “Short People” jokes around here...

Because...in the horribly earnest - and artistically benighted - early seventies of my childhood, Randy Newman was (undoubtedly) the most important “mainstream” songwriter we had. And yet, a freak one-dimensional hit, from one atypically “substandard” album, was enough to derail the career of the very best songwriter/arranger of the era...so that his “reputation” since has been tarred & feathered by it.

But...you should definitely hear to what came before...

Since this album is a goddamn masterpiece. From the overwhelming Hollywood dreaming of “Sail Away” - the most purely seductive imagery ever linked to slavery (not to mention America itself) - to the awesomely bleak anti-illusionism of “God’s Song”, this album offers perhaps the broadest single-author song-cycle that American music has yet offered.

And the music itself is strangely unified...and, yet wildly diverse. Still, there are three crucial ingredients: the lushly string-laden romanticism of his uncle (one of the key soundtrack composers of classic Hollywood), the New Orleans R&B of his childhood, and the delta blues-take of his guitarist, the inimitable Ry Cooder. The combined result is a seamlessly variegated synthesis of three of the greatest genres American music has yet produced...in support of the greatest singer-songwriter of the early seventies...

But, unfortunately, Randy Newman is rarely acknowledged as such, because - and, again, unfairly - the measure of this genre during that benighted period was autobiographical sincerity. And, in dramatic contrast to this, Randy Newman was the Californian “equivalent” of Lou Reed at his (Velvet Underground) peak as a songwriter: delivering the true diversity of the American dream...without the judgemental distortions that so typically disfigured the output of his so-called “peers”. And he far exceeded Reed in scope...

Because...America - irrespective of age or politics - has never had a more honest, or lyrical, intermediary than Randy Newman. And, at his peak - which this album exemplifies - he literally “voiced” such a vast variety of American worldviews that there has never been any other, before or since, who has even come close.

And, remarkably, the backing band itself rose to the occasion...

Discover it for yourself, because I suspect that it will be a long time before this achievement will be matched, let alone surpassed.




John Henry Calvinist