The Randy Newman Songbook, Vol. 1
If anyone's entitled to revisit his past work, it's Randy Newman. After all, over the course of the past three decades, he's evolved from acid-tongued social commentator to family-friendly soundtrack maestro (see Toy Story), with plenty of stops along the way. On this 18-song set, Newman cycles back to the beginning of his career and reimagines some favorites in stark, solo fashion, stripping away everything but voice and piano. On some songs, like the eerie slave-trade commentary "Sail Away," that's not such a major reinvention, but on more rollicking songs -- the hedonistic smirkfest "Mama Told Me Not to Come," for one -- the change is vast. The disc is nicely balanced between Newman's most provocative work, such as the fretfully agnostic "God's Song," and his more wistful side, vividly displayed on "Marie." Newman's voice has grown more weather-beaten over the years, which adds an extra layer of poignancy to the more reflective numbers and a wizened tenor to the more doctrinaire tracks. Interestingly, even the set's most topical tunes have withstood the test of time remarkably well: The Vietnam-era "Political Science" can be transposed to modern-day war without a single tweak, while "Lonely at the Top" is every bit as relevant in its lampooning of celebrity status. Through his more recent work, Newman has proven his accessibility to the masses, making this easy-on-the-ears set an ideal vehicle to drive his more acerbic points into the heart of the mainstream.