Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Or Randy Unplugged. Or Newman Stripped. Or Newman's Own. Or Solo Piano Works. The concept here, as on its predecessor, is to revisit the grand catalogue of Newman, and let him perform at his most intimate and powerful, which is alone at the piano. Now Newman is a master at using strings and such in a modern setting, and orchestrations are the family business of course, for filmscores and more. But Newman is also a beautiful piano player, using a lot of the New Orleans style he grew to love by summering there in his youth. And with no other instruments to distract from his voice, the King Of American Irony hits on full-on with his lyrical power.

Many of the best-known songs are on Vol. 1, including Political Science, I Think It's Going To Rain Today and You Can Leave Your Hat On, so for this one we get to peer a little deeper into Newman's psyche. Of course, he's a dark bugger, capable of lyrics so squirmy he's the last person you'd think a proper choice for all those Disney movies. Stalkers, racists, and the horrible rich populate his songs. He can skewer entire cities, including Birmingham, by having his narrator list all the great things he has in the city, which are all the mundane or miserable parts of every city in the U.S., but still claim to be living in the best place in the land. And on Baltimore, written in 1977 when major metropolises were failing economically and socially, Newman calls out the people who don't see the collapse, with "they hide their eyes 'cause the city's dyin' and they don't know why." But the most awful American is the rich man of My Life Is Good, failing to believe his son's teacher who has pointed out his offspring is a bully. Since his life of cocaine, rock stars and riches is so good, his son must be perfect too.

Instead of this piano-only format being boring, it's dramatic and hypnotic. The songs are brief, as Newman has always been one for keeping his stories tight and painting a small picture rather than giving us the whole idea. With songs ranging over 40 years, we realize he's been unflinching in his style and ability to lift the curtain on America, to let everything see the bad with the good. Necessary stuff that, as we've always counted on songwriters to do that, right back to the court jesters. This is one of those albums that i couldn't bear to end. Luckily I could then put on Vol. 1 again. And then back to Vol. 2...

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