Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Great Songwriters: Randy Newman- Sail Away(1973)

Odd man out in California's early-'70s panoply of singer-songwriters, Randy Newman didn't play guitar, refused to confess specific personal dreams and sins, and sidestepped the countercultural trinity of sex, rebellion, and self. Newman dared to be a neoclassical pop survivor, narrative guerilla, and prankster, and no album summarizes these gifts better than this 1973 classic, which found the singer, songwriter, pianist, and arranger spreading his wings to fuse the economy of his songwriting with his lush talents as a composer. The classic title song mingles its elegiac orchestral bloom with the devastating, deadpanned sales pitch of its slave trader protagonist, while elsewhere Newman wraps his whiskey drawl and laconic piano around acerbic meditations on God ("He Gives Us All His Love," "God's Song"), celebrity ("Lonely at the Top"), nuclear Armageddon ("Political Science"), and sex ("You Can Leave Your Hat On"). Sail Away captures funny, tragic, moving American pop at its zenith. Rhino's 2002 remixed, expanded reissue is fleshed out with early versions of "Dayton, Ohio 1903" and "Sail Away," the rarities "Let It Shine and "Maybe I'm Doing It Wrong," and a demo take of "You Can Leave Your Hat On." -Sam Sutherland
key tracks: Sail Away, Political Science

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