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Pop - Released May 21, 2002 | Rhino - Warner Records

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
On his third studio album, Randy Newman found a middle ground between the heavily orchestrated pop of his debut and the more stripped-down, rock-oriented approach of 12 Songs, and managed to bring new strength to both sides of his musical personality in the process. The title track, which Newman has described as a sort of commercial jingle written for slave traders looking to recruit naïve Africans, and "Old Man," in which an elderly man is rejected with feigned compassion by his son, were set to Newman's most evocative arrangements to date and rank with the most intelligent and effective use of a large ensemble by anyone in pop music. On the other end of the scale, "Last Night I Had a Dream" and "You Can Leave Your Hat On" are lean, potent mid-tempo rock tunes, the former featuring some slashing and ominous slide guitar from Ry Cooder, and the latter a witty and willfully perverse bit of erotic absurdity that later became a hit for Joe Cocker (who sounded as if he took the joke at face value). Elsewhere, Newman cynically ponders the perils of a stardom he would never achieve ("Lonely at the Top," originally written for Frank Sinatra), offers a broad and amusing bit of political satire ("Political Science"), and concludes with one of the most bitter rants against religion that anyone committed to vinyl prior to the punk era ([RoviLink="MC"]"God's Song [That's Why I Love Mankind]"[/RoviLink]). Whether he's writing for three pieces or 30, Newman makes superb use of the sounds available to him, and his vocals are the model of making the most of a limited instrument. Overall, Sail Away is one of Newman's finest works, musically adventurous and displaying a lyrical subtlety that would begin to fade in his subsequent works. ~ Mark Deming
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Pop - Released February 11, 2003 | Rhino - Warner Records

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
Randy Newman's songwriting often walks a narrow line between intelligent satire and willful cruelty, and that line was never finer than on the album Good Old Boys. Newman had long displayed a fascination with the American South, and Good Old Boys was a song cycle where he gave free reign to his most imaginative (and venomous) thoughts on the subject. The album's scabrous opening cut, "Rednecks," is guaranteed to offend practically anyone with its tale of a slow-witted, willfully (and proudly) ignorant Southerner obsessed with "keeping the n-----s down." "A Wedding in Cherokee County" is more polite but hardly less mean-spirited, in which an impotent hick marries a circus freak; if the song's melody and arrangement weren't so skillful, it would be hard to imagine anyone bothering with this musical geek show. But elsewhere, Good Old Boys displays a very real compassion for the blighted history of the South, leavened with a knowing wit. "Birmingham" is a funny but humane tale of working-class Alabamians, "Louisiana 1927" and "Kingfish" are intelligent and powerfully evocative tales of the deep South in the depths of the Great Depression, and "Rollin'" is cheerful on the surface and troubling to anyone willing to look beneath it. Musically, Newman dives deep into his influences in Southern soul and also adds potent country accents (with the help of Al Perkins pedal-steel guitar) while dressing up his songs in typically expert string and horn arrangements. And Newman assumes each character, either brave or foolish, with the skill of a gifted actor, giving even his most loathsome characters enough depth that they're human beings, despite their flaws. Good Old Boys is one of Newman's finest albums; it's also one of his most provocative and infuriating, and that's probably just the way he wanted it. ~ Mark Deming
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Pop - Released December 16, 2016 | Nonesuch

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Film Soundtracks - Released June 21, 2019 | Walt Disney Records

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Pop - Released January 12, 1983 | Warner Records

Randy Newman began the slow process of transforming himself into a polished L.A. song-crafter on the album Little Criminals, and with Trouble in Paradise the metamorphosis was complete; by this time, Newman could make a record just as ear-pleasing as anything Paul Simon, Don Henley, or Lindsey Buckingham could come up with, and proved it by persuading all three to appear on the sessions. But no matter how polished the arrangements and smooth the production, Newman's songs don't sound like they're ready for radio, and he's too bright not to understand that songs about apartheid, self-pitying white bluesmen, and arrogant yuppies are poor prospects for the pop charts. Trouble in Paradise marked the high point of Newman's struggle between pop sheen and his satiric impulses, and the album is a significant improvement over Little Criminals and Born Again. The targets of Newman's satirical gaze are easy to skewer, and his pen is hardly subtle, but the overall tone is more respectful than on Born Again and the results are stronger. The bitter Afrikaner in "Christmas in Capetown" and the egocentric blowhard in "My Life Is Good" have at least earned Newman's disgust, and while many of the character studies ("Mikey," "I'm Different") and vignettes ("Miami," "Take Me Back") take a less than charitable view of their protagonists, like the losers and half-wits that populate Good Old Boys, they're human beings whose flaws reveal a hint of tragedy. And the closing number, "Song for the Dead," is a stunner in which a soldier explains to the bodies he's burying the purpose behind the war that took their lives. While too slick for Newman's core audience, Trouble in Paradise was his most intelligent and best realized work since Good Old Boys, and his finest album of the 1980s. ~ Mark Deming
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Film Soundtracks - Released August 21, 2015 | Walt Disney Records

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Pop - Released September 23, 1977 | Warner Records

After Good Old Boys, one of the most ambitious and thematically unified albums of his career, Randy Newman seemed to beat a willful retreat for his next project, 1977's Little Criminals. For the most part abandoning the carefully structured orchestral arrangements that dominated Good Old Boys and Sail Away, Newman cut Little Criminals with a handful of pop-friendly session musicians and L.A. Mellow Mafia regulars (including most of the Eagles), and his arch, cutting satire gave way to a lighter but less thoughtful tone, with the humor becoming less mean-spirited (though becoming much more venomous than "Rednecks" might have been difficult). Newman even revisited one of his favorite themes, the pointlessness of racial prejudice, with a metaphor so silly no one could fail to understand it. Or at least that's what he thought when he wrote "Short People"; the song unexpectedly took off as a novelty hit, and the vertically challenged across the country began attacking Newman for what they saw as an affront to their dignity and well-being. As a result, Little Criminals became Newman's first (and only) gold album in the United States, but this set wasn't an especially good way to introduce the average record buyer to his work. Little Criminals lacks the scope of Newman's best work, the music is skillful but bland, and several of the songs sound like padding (especially "You Can't Fool the Fat Man" and "Jolly Coppers on Parade"). While the title tune, "Rider in the Rain," "In Germany Before the War," and "Sigmund Freud's Impersonation of Albert Einstein in America" (which was written for the movie Ragtime but not used) are fine songs, much of Little Criminals sounds like Newman was treading water; it's not his worst album, but it sounds like the work of a man figuring out what his next move should be. ~ Mark Deming
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Pop - Released August 4, 2017 | Nonesuch

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With Donald Trump as President and an increasingly topsy-turvy planet, Randy Newman’s comeback after nine years of absolute silence was eagerly awaited… Much like Cole Porter in the second half of the 20th century, this 73-year-old musician from California has always managed to combine causticity with emotion, portraits of rare accuracy and atypical frescoes. Most importantly Randy Newman created a style of his own. In Dark Matter the genius of the author of Rednecks, Short People, Old Man, Sail Away, Political Science and I Love L.A. is intact. In beautiful arrangements (strings are never out of the picture for him) he derides religion, creationists and even Vladimir Putin. Further on he imagines a conversation between the Kennedy brothers during the Bay of Pigs crisis and evokes the tragic life of Sonny Boy Williamson, a bluesman who had his name stolen by a peer after being murdered… Once again Randy Newman displays an impressive sense of staging in his songs. Whether theatrical, openly jazzy or more blues-ey, his score always remains timeless. When gifted with such originality, there's no need to reinvent the wheel! Simply staying true to himself is enough. And he brilliantly does just that throughout this Dark Matter album, imposing its status of perfect work on each new listen. © MZ/Qobuz
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Pop - Released August 5, 2008 | Nonesuch

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Pop - Released June 30, 1975 | Warner Records

On his debut album, Randy Newman sounded as if he was still getting used to the notion of performing his own songs in the studio (despite years of cutting songwriting demos), but apparently he was a pretty quick study, and his second long-player, 12 Songs, was a striking step forward for Newman as a recording artist. While much of Randy Newman was heavily orchestrated, 12 Songs was cut with a small combo (Ry Cooder and Clarence White take turns on guitar), leaving a lot more room for Newman's Fats Domino-gone-cynical piano and the bluesier side of his vocal style, and Randy sounds far more confident and comfortable in this context. And Newman's second batch of songs were even stronger than his first (no small accomplishment), rocking more and grooving harder but losing none of their intelligence and careful craft in the process. "Have You Seen My Baby?" and "Mama Told Me Not to Come" are a pair of sly, updated New Orleans-style rockers (both of which would be much-covered in the coming years); "Let's Burn Down the Cornfield" and "Suzanne" are subtly ominous tales of love and sex; "Yellow Man" was an early meditation on one of Newman's favorite themes, the absurdity of racial prejudice (which he would also glance at in his straight-but-twisted cover of "Underneath the Harlem Moon"); and "My Old Kentucky Home" is a hilarious and quite uncharitable look at life in the deep South (another theme that would pop up in his later work). Newman's humor started getting more acidic with 12 Songs, but here even his most mordant character studies boast a recognizable humanity, which often make his subjects both pitiable and all the more loathsome. Superb material brilliantly executed, 12 Songs was Randy Newman's first great album, and is still one of his finest moments on record. ~ Mark Deming
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Pop - Released February 11, 2003 | Rhino - Warner Records

Randy Newman's songwriting often walks a narrow line between intelligent satire and willful cruelty, and that line was never finer than on the album Good Old Boys. Newman had long displayed a fascination with the American South, and Good Old Boys was a song cycle where he gave free reign to his most imaginative (and venomous) thoughts on the subject. The album's scabrous opening cut, "Rednecks," is guaranteed to offend practically anyone with its tale of a slow-witted, willfully (and proudly) ignorant Southerner obsessed with "keeping the n-----s down." "A Wedding in Cherokee County" is more polite but hardly less mean-spirited, in which an impotent hick marries a circus freak; if the song's melody and arrangement weren't so skillful, it would be hard to imagine anyone bothering with this musical geek show. But elsewhere, Good Old Boys displays a very real compassion for the blighted history of the South, leavened with a knowing wit. "Birmingham" is a funny but humane tale of working-class Alabamians, "Louisiana 1927" and "Kingfish" are intelligent and powerfully evocative tales of the deep South in the depths of the Great Depression, and "Rollin'" is cheerful on the surface and troubling to anyone willing to look beneath it. Musically, Newman dives deep into his influences in Southern soul and also adds potent country accents (with the help of Al Perkins pedal-steel guitar) while dressing up his songs in typically expert string and horn arrangements. And Newman assumes each character, either brave or foolish, with the skill of a gifted actor, giving even his most loathsome characters enough depth that they're human beings, despite their flaws. Good Old Boys is one of Newman's finest albums; it's also one of his most provocative and infuriating, and that's probably just the way he wanted it. ~ Mark Deming
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Pop - Released September 27, 1988 | Warner Records

Unlike his contemporaries in the singer/songwriter community, Randy Newman has displayed little interest in writing about himself, with nearly every song in his repertoire set in the voice of some imagined character. So 1988's Land of Dreams was startling because its first three songs formed a triptych about Newman's childhood; for the first time on one of his albums, Newman was clearly writing about his own life, and the results were extraordinary. "Dixie Flyer" tells how Newman and his mother came to move from Los Angeles to New Orleans during World War II; "New Orleans Wins the War" introduces young Newman to the issues of race in the Deep South as he ponders the odd realities of life in "The City That Care Forgot"; in "Four Eyes," cross-eyed Newman is forced to confront responsibility (and cruelty) for the first time on his first day in school. But while Land of Dreams begins as an unusually strong and compelling concept album, Newman apparently lost interest in writing about himself, and from track four onward, Land of Dreams is content to pick up where Trouble in Paradise left off. Themes of race and class in America dominate the second half of the album, most potently on "Roll With the Punches" and "I Want You to Hurt Like I Do," two "responses" to the grandstanding compassion of "We Are the World." Land of Dreams is a strong piece of work from Randy Newman, but if he'd had the courage to follow what he'd started with the first three songs, he might have had a masterpiece. ~ Mark Deming
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Film Soundtracks - Released March 29, 2005 | Rhino - Warner Bros.

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Film Soundtracks - Released July 22, 2016 | Walt Disney Records

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Pop - Released September 23, 2016 | Nonesuch

Booklet
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Pop - Released August 19, 2003 | Nonesuch

Between 1977 and 1988, Randy Newman seemed bound and determined to prove he could be a pop star, which is no small task when your voice is froggy, wear glasses, and your favorite themes are racism and insensitivity. While Newman managed to make some very good albums during that span of time -- most notably 1983's Trouble in Paradise -- his desire to wrap a harsh message in a pretty package didn't always serve his art especially well, with one side seemingly compromising the other. But Newman's late-career success as a composer of film scores (complete with an Oscar) seems to have satiated his desire for fame and fortune, and he's been willing to take on a less cluttered approach in his own recordings. 1999's Bad Love was the leanest and most direct Newman album since Sail Away in 1972, and in 2003 he revisited his back catalog with The Randy Newman Songbook, Vol. 1. Here, Newman sits at the piano and, with no other accompaniment, sings 15 songs he wrote between 1966 and 1999 (and plays short extracts from three his film scores), and the simplicity of this presentation makes this a superb showcase for the intelligence, grace, and craft of Newman's songs. There's plenty of venom in Newman's humor, but more than a little compassion as well, and he doesn't pick easy or simple targets. Here Newman does a masterful job of portraying his rogues' gallery, from a cynical God ([RoviLink="MC"]"God's Song [That's Why I Love Mankind]"[/RoviLink]) and a pathetic would-be ladies' man ("You Can Leave Your Hat On") to a slave trader looking to convince Africans to give up their freedom ("Sail Away") and a casually genocidal world leader ("Political Science"), and in each performance he makes his characters sound sadly, hilariously human and easily recognizable. And while there's little flash in Newman's piano style, the easy elegance and understated New Orleans roll of his touch at the keyboard is at once beautifully subtle and subtly beautiful. There isn't much to The Randy Newman Songbook, Vol. 1 -- just a guy playing piano and singing his songs -- but it's just enough to make you laugh, wince, and almost cry; it's the work of one of the few people in pop music who merits the description "genius," and it's a remarkable summation of his singular talent. ~ Mark Deming
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Pop - Released November 8, 2011 | Nonesuch

Through most of his first decade as a recording artist, Randy Newman was a critics' darling known to the mainstream pop audience only through the songs he wrote that were recorded by artists such as Dusty Springfield, Three Dog Night, and Harry Nilsson, his own records often being too lyrically blunt (and his vocals too froggy) for radio. Newman finally scored a hit of his own with "Short People" in 1978, but his greatest success came in the 1990s; his profitable sideline in writing film scores eventually grew into his primary occupation, and the theme songs he wrote for movies like Toy Story, Monsters Inc., Cars, and The Princess and the Frog earned him a reputation for composing warm but clever pop tunes that overshadowed his more personal work in the public eye. In recent years, Newman appears to have gone on a low-key campaign to remind folks about the music he made before hitting pay dirt with Pixar and Disney; he's recorded two volumes of The Randy Newman Songbook in which he revisits gems from his back catalog with only his piano accompanying his vocals, and now he's released Live in London, which documents a show from a 2008 British tour in support of the album Harps and Angels. The 22-song set list spans the whole of Newman's recording career, including one tune from his 1968 debut LP ("Love Story") as well as several selections from Harps and Angels, and while Newman performs eight numbers solo at the piano, on the rest he's accompanied by the BBC Concert Orchestra, offering a generous reminder that Newman's skill as an arranger is on a par with his gift as a composer. Newman has never possessed a traditionally "great" voice, and his instrument wavers a bit on several of these selections, but his sense of phrasing and his ability to inhabit a character is still impressive, and his piano work, perhaps the only thing Fats Domino and Aaron Copland will ever have in common, is excellent. The tone of Live in London is relaxed but confident, and Newman's between-song patter offers a witty look into the wealth of ideas and influences that inform his songwriting, from America's stature in the eyes of the world to his son's report cards. Live in London doesn't quite catch Randy Newman at his best as a performer, but he clearly knows how to make his great songs connect with an audience, and as an overview of his career as one of America's best and most intelligent songwriters, it's well worth investigating for longtime fans as well as those who know little of him beyond "You've Got a Friend in Me." ~ Mark Deming
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Pop - Released May 6, 2011 | Nonesuch

Booklet
Nearly eight years after releasing The Randy Newman Songbook, Vol. 1, in which one of America's finest and most distinctive songwriters revisited a handful of songs from his back catalog in elegant, austere new recordings, Newman has delivered the implied follow-up, in which he revisits 16 more tunes with just his own piano work accompanying his vocals. Unlike many veteran artists past official retirement age, Newman's skills as a performer haven't suffered a bit with the passage of time, and these new recordings sound fresh and immediate; while Newman has never had a traditionally "good" voice, his instrument sounds as strong as ever and he's even better at assuming his cast of often questionable characters than he was on his early LPs, while his piano playing, a remarkable fusion of traditional pop and New Orleans groove, is emotionally and technically dazzling and gives these songs all the form and color they need. As good as it is, The Randy Newman Songbook, Vol. 2 feels a bit like the second Greatest Hits album drawn from a career artist's catalog; so many great songs were pulled for Vol. 1 that the sophomore effort seems slightly weak in comparison, and though Newman certainly has enough great songs to come up with another Songbook installment as strong as the first, there are a few numbers here that aren't A-list, particularly "Sandman's Coming" from his fascinating but flawed musical Faust and "My Life Is Good," one of the rare examples of his venom not finding its target (it's also one of the only songs here that doesn't seem suited to this minimal arrangement). And while "Laugh And Be Happy" fares well, it also appeared on Newman's last pop effort, 2008's excellent Harps and Angels, and there are plenty of songs that better deserve a second look. The Randy Newman Songbook, Vol. 2 seems flawed compared to its sibling, but that's more a matter of the choice of material than any fault in Newman's performance or interpretation; he's the rare performer and songwriter who could undertake this sort of project and not only keep it from seeming redundant, but make it revelatory and consistently pleasurable. Longtime fans will be pleased, and folks who only know Newman from his film scores will be startled at the depth of the man's body of work, even on a collection with a couple of (relative) ringers. ~ Mark Deming
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Film Soundtracks - Released January 1, 1995 | Walt Disney Records

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Pop - Released August 3, 1979 | Warner Records

After the song "Short People" finally earned Randy Newman the hit single he claimed he always wanted (and in perhaps the worst way possible), Newman told reporters that for his next album he was preparing "a larger insult." And sure enough, Born Again was packed full of losers and misfits for whom Newman's contempt was unmistakable; from a man who had found some measure of understanding in his tales of thugs, stalkers, and slave traders on previous releases, the unmistakable bile Newman summoned up on "Half a Man," "Mr. Sheep," and "Pretty Boy" seems little short of perverse. And while Newman indulges in his usual passion for social satire here, "They Just Got Married" and "It's Money That I Love" are so stunningly unsubtle you have a hard time believing they came from the same man who wrote "Sail Away" or "Kingfish" (though "It's Money That I Love" has a piano line that would do Fats Domino proud). "The Story of a Rock and Roll Band" is a hilarious and deadly accurate parody of the Electric Light Orchestra (admittedly an easy target, but still beautifully executed), and the all-too-brief "William Brown" is a lovely vignette that wouldn't have been out of place on 12 Songs or Sail Away, but otherwise Born Again is the weakest non-soundtrack album of Randy Newman's career. ~ Mark Deming