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Tuesday 6 December 2016

Laid-back lyricist really strikes chord

Randy Newman's relative anonymity has served him well over the years, writes Barry Egan

Published 25/04/2010 | 05:00

When Bob Dylan was supposed to be talking up the release of his 33rd album 'Together Through Life' last year, he instead had these well-earned words of praise for singer-songwriter Randy Newman.

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"Randy? What can I say? I like his early songs, 'Sail Away', 'Burn Down the Cornfield', 'Louisiana', where he kept it simple. Bordello songs. I think of him as the Crown Prince, the heir apparent to Jelly Roll Morton. His style is deceiving," Bob said.

"He's so laid-back that you kind of forget he's saying important things. Randy's sort of tied to a different era like I am."

Personally, I prefer Newman's Sigmund Freud's Impersonation of Albert Einstein in America:

"The world of science is my

game

And Albert Einstein is my

name

I was born in Germany

And I'm happy you be

Here in the land of the

brave and the free."

Various pamphlets -- Mojo, Q, Rolling Stone and Uncut -- are proclaiming Newman's new(ish) LP 'Harps and Angels' as his best in a long, long time. (Well, 'Harps and Angels' is his first album in almost a decade, to be fair).

"The first, and perhaps the best, of modern pop's great storytellers. He may well be the greatest contemporary American songwriter," the Observer said in its review.

They weren't exaggerating. Everyone from the Everly Brothers, Dusty Springfield, Nina Simone and Pat Boone to Peggy Lee have covered Newman's songs; while everyone from Elvis Costello to Tom Waits have cited him as an influence.

He was asked during an interview around the time of Harps and Angels whether his relative anonymity has set him free.

"You know, maybe it has, yeah," the great and magnificently mordant American singer-song writer and pianist answered.

"That's a good question. I think if I had more success it might have pressured me out of writing just whatever I wanted to write. I don't have that strong a character."

He also talked to the Guardian about his relationship with fame: "The numbers say that I wouldn't have handled it particularly well. Y'know, if I took pills, I would take more. Thank God I didn't like cocaine. I think I'd have been pretty bad as a person. And maybe I was anyway, but I don't think I could have handled it (success). Fortunately I wrote stuff that people didn't like. I dodged a bullet there."

As he sang in his 1970 song titled 'Lonely at the Top': "Listen all you fools out there/Go on and love me -- I don't care."

But we care.

Randy Newman plays live at the Grand Canal Theatre, Docklands, Dublin 2, on Friday, May 7. Tickets, €59.80, €65.70 fully seated, are now on sale from all ticketmaster outlets nationwide, or go to www.ticketmaster.ie

Sunday Independent

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