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Archive for the ‘Randy Newman’ Category

Sail Away: Randy Newman “Live in London” CD+DVD Coming From Nonesuch

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By the numbers, Randy Newman is the recipient of six Grammys, three Emmys and two Oscars (the latter out of a stunning 20 nominations).  Mr. Newman created “something new under the sun” with the 1968 release of his self-titled Reprise debut, after years honing his craft on staff at Metric Music.  At Metric, he wrote with Jackie DeShannon and in this early period provided songs for Dusty Springfield, Cilla Black, Nina Simone, Alan Price, Peggy Lee and so many others.  Ambitious concept albums and tight collections of witheringly witty pop songs marked his seventies output, with 1977’s “Short People” a misunderstood surprise hit.  Not content to rest on his considerable laurels, Newman took up the family business, devoting more time to the composition of film scores.  In perhaps his most surprising career move, the man behind such potent attacks on racism, greed, imperialism and hypocrisy became a family-friendly icon with his contributions to Pixar films such as Toy Story, with its now-standard “You’ve Got a Friend in Me.”  (You can revisit Newman’s entire catalogue to date in our Back Tracks feature!)

One thing Randy Newman hasn’t done in 40 years, however, is release a live album.  Randy Newman Live, issued in June 1971, captured just under half an hour of highlights from his solo stand at New York’s Bitter End in September 1970.  But now, Newman’s hiatus from live recording has come to a bitter end itself.  On November 8, Nonesuch will release the deluxe CD/DVD set, Live in London, featuring Newman accompanied by the BBC Concert Orchestra.  The June 22, 2008 concert features Newman on piano and vocals, and Robert Ziegler conducting the orchestra.  It was recorded at LSO St. Luke’s, an 18th-century Anglican church that has been restored by the orchestra for use in its community and music education programs.  The concert was originally televised by the BBC.

Just two songs are reprised from that 1971 album, “Mama Told Me Not to Come” (a hit for Three Dog Night) and “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today,” one of Newman’s most perennial classics.  The other 20 tracks run the gamut through an impressive career.  From that 1968 debut, you’ll hear (and see) “Love Story,” with Newman’s classic musing, “We’ll have a kid/Or maybe we’ll rent one, He’s got to be straight/We don’t want a bent one.”  A quintet of songs comes from 1972’s Sail Away.  There’s the stirring title track in which a slave trader admonishes his human quarry to “sail away” to America, land of the “sweet watermelon and the buckwheat cake,” where they’ll find themselves as happy as a “monkey in a monkey tree.”  Just as pointed are foreign policy credo “Political Science” (“They all hate us anyhow/Let’s drop the big one now!”) and “God’s Song (That’s Why I Love Mankind),” sung by a not-so-benevolent god.  “You Can Leave Your Hat On” took on a completely new dimension when covered by Tom Jones and Joe Cocker, but is another raised-eyebrow character study as sung by its writer.  The charming “Simon Smith and the Amazing Dancing Bear” addresses prejudice in its own way: “Oh, who would think a boy and a bear could be well accepted everywhere?  It’s just amazing how fair people can be!”

What else will you find on Live in London?  Just hit the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

October 10, 2011 at 13:19

Posted in DVD, News, Randy Newman, Reissues

Review: The Beau Brummels, “Bradley’s Barn: Expanded Edition”

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Before Abbey Road or Caribou, The Beau Brummels immortalized a famous recording studio as the title of Bradley’s Barn, their 1968 album for Warner Bros. Records.  The San Francisco pop-rock outfit had travelled to Nashville, Tennessee to record at Owen Bradley’s storied venue at roughly the same time their contemporaries, The Byrds, were on the other side of town cutting Sweetheart of the Rodeo.   Though the “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Turn! Turn! Turn!” hitmakers beat the Brummels to the punch with a release date of a few months earlier, Bradley’s Barn made similar strides in defining the sound of what would become known as “country-rock.”  Finally, Bradley’s can be put in perspective with the release of Rhino Handmade’s lavish tribute to what may be the Brummels’ finest LP.  Housed in a sturdy hardbound book, the expanded Bradley’s Barn (RHM2 524919) makes the case for a band that ultimately looked forward by looking back.

Strictly speaking, however, this wasn’t the Bay Area-vs.-the-British-Invasion band of “Laugh, Laugh” and “Just a Little” fame.  That lineup of Ron Elliott, Sal Valentino, Dec Mulligan, Ron Meagher and John Petersen had scaled the heights of fame (and even were immortalized in animated form as The Beau Brummelstones on The Flintstones!) before dissolving, bit by bit, after those early glory days.  Meagher departed during sessions for the psychedelia-tinged Triangle in 1967, leaving Valentino and Elliott as the architects of Bradley’s Barn.  The third major influence was that of producer Lenny Waronker, who was building the rosters of Warner Bros. and Reprise in A&R while spearheading the careers of artists like Randy Newman and Harper’s Bizarre, a founding member of which was the Beau Brummels’ John Petersen.  After producing Triangle, Waronker hit on the notion that Elliott and Valentino should record in Nashville.  (He says he was partially inspired by Dylan’s travels there – but then, who wasn’t?)  Other acts had a similar “back-to-the-land” trajectory after experimenting in psychedelia, some spurred on by the success of The Band’s first album, released in July 1968.  But a country-rock synthesis was long ingrained in The Brummels, as could be heard on their 1965 cut “Dream On” and even on Triangle with its Merle Travis cover, “Nine Pound Hammer.”  Bradley’s brought those tendencies to the fore.  But the sophisticated Waronker didn’t equate country with simplicity; instead, he envisioned a “guitar orchestra” that would still push the sonic envelope while embracing the best that the Nashville sound had to offer.

Hit the jump to join us down at Bradley’s Barn! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

August 3, 2011 at 12:21

Review: Jackie DeShannon and Doris Troy, Anthologized by Ace

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It may have been sheer coincidence that Ace dropped I’ll Do Anything: The Doris Troy Anthology 1960-1996 and Jackie DeShannon’s Come and Get Me: The Complete Liberty and Imperial Singles Volume 2 on the same day. But different though these two singers may be, their similarities are striking. Both were pioneering female songwriters, with Troy penning her biggest hit, “Just One Look,” and DeShannon offering up the likes of “When You Walk in the Room” and “Put a Little Love in Your Heart.” Both had great success recording in England and both had a Beatle connection. DeShannon toured with the group while Troy actually was produced by George Harrison while Ringo sat in on drums. And now both are recipients of two of 2011’s most exciting releases.

It’s impossible to believe that Doris Troy’s “I’ll Do Anything (He Wants Me to Do),” the track which gives her anthology its name, wasn’t a smash hit. This remarkable early production by the young Kenny Gamble was written by Gamble, his partner Leon Huff and Doris herself (as Doris Payne, no relation to the jewel thief!). Slated for “Mashed Potato Time” star and Gamble’s future wife Dee Dee Sharp, it was released by Cameo Parkway’s Calla division in the waning days of the label. What a discovery! This pulsating floor-filler has little in common with the smooth soul of Gamble and Huff’s later Philadelphia International days, but you’ll have to fight the urge to keep hitting the “repeat” button nonetheless! After all, “I’ll Do Anything” is only the first song on Ace’s non-chronological disc. It’s hard to resist, though – the track is on fire! Another lost classic from her brief Cameo tenure is “But I Love Him.” Arranged by Neil Sedaka’s frequent collaborator Alan Lorber, this call-and-response plea was cut for Atlantic in 1963 but not released until 1965 on Cameo. Listen a little longer, however, and it’s clear that Troy experimented with a variety of styles, with only her soulful vocals as a constant. The immortal “Just One Look,” released by Atlantic in 1963, is almost an afterthought among all of these gems.

The two earliest tracks on the set are both from 1960, and reflect Troy’s multifaceted voice: the shouting “You Better Mind” and its follow-up, the ballad “What a Wonderful Lover.” In between trying to break in solo, Troy was an in-demand session vocalist often working with the Drinkard Singers, the group that also boasted Dionne Warwick, Dee Dee Warwick and Cissy Houston in its ranks. By 1962, they were the go-to group, recording with top acts like The Drifters and Solomon Burke. As Troy recalled in the liner notes, Dionne was first to leave the group. Doris followed, then Dee Dee, and finally Cissy with The Sweet Inspirations. Dionne Warwick, of course, had her breakthrough on Florence Greenberg’s Scepter label (the story of which is told in the upcoming Broadway musical Baby, It’s You!). On its sister imprint, Wand, Troy provided uncredited vocals on Chuck Jackson’s “Tell Him I’m Not Home,” a prime slice of uptown soul conducted by Tony Bruno and arranged by Steven Garrick. The production has an R&B feel similar to some of Leiber and Stoller and Burt Bacharach’s work with the Drifters, and made such an impression on music biz insiders early in 1963 that it sealed Troy a deal with Atlantic. Collaborations are a major part of I’ll Do Anything. Troy reunited with Jackson in 1964 contributing the responses to the Luther Dixon-produced “Beg Me” (beg him, she did!) and there’s also the brassy “What a Night, Night, Night,” an early track from 1961 by “Jay and Dee” a.k.a. Doris and the otherwise-unknown Jay, described by Doris as “a nice guy, a nice looking guy.” Her arguably most heralded pairing, however, was with George Harrison. Read on, after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

March 4, 2011 at 13:00

King, Taylor and Fellow “Troubadours” Arrive on DVD with Bonus CD

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Morgan Neville’s 2010 film Troubadours: The Rise of the Singer-Songwriter is nothing if not ambitious. A participant in the Sundance U.S. Documentary Competition, Troubadours functions as a dual biography of Carole King and James Taylor, as well as the story of Doug Weston’s club on Los Angeles’ Santa Monica Boulevard that gave rise to King, Taylor and so many others. Their 2007 reunion and subsequent tour in 2010 provides the framework for the film. Yet moreover, it touches on the entire singer-songwriter ethos that rose out of the turbulent last days of the 1960s, and in doing so, also biographically spotlights Jackson Browne, Elton John, Kris Kristofferson, Bonnie Raitt, Joni Mitchell and other Troubadour mainstays such as Don Henley and Glenn Frey of Eagles. (Steve Martin, a frequent guest at the Troubadour’s “Hoot” nights with his banjo in tow, contributes much of the film’s humor with his wry and on-the-money recollections. One such memory involves Frey setting him straight on the band’s name in something out of a “Who’s on first?” routine. It’s “Eagles,” Martin stresses today. Not “The Eagles!”) With its limited theatrical run wrapping up, Concord Music Group, a producer of the film, gives Troubadours a DVD release on March 1 via its Hear Music label in a special package that also contains a 10-track CD.

The accompanying CD is not a soundtrack to the film; wouldn’t that have been something, with its exclusive (and sometimes impromptu!) performances and rare archival footage of Taylor, King and others. Instead, we’re offered a sampler with some of the biggest names to play The Troubadour and be associated with the Los Angeles music scene of the early 1970s. As guitarist Danny “Kootch” Kortchmar points out in the film, don’t call these musicians mellow! They include Taylor and King, of course, who are represented with “Sweet Baby James” and “It’s Too Late,” respectively, but also Raitt, John, Kristofferson, Randy Newman, Warren Zevon, and also 2011 Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Tom Waits. Lowell George’s Little Feat is the only group present, and a track from Linda Ronstadt is also included. While Ronstadt herself wasn’t a singer-songwriter, Neville’s film points out her importance to the era as a first-rate interpreter of many of her friends’ songs.

What rare treats are offered in the film? Hit the jump for details, plus pre-order information and track listing for the bonus CD! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

February 11, 2011 at 09:52

Back Tracks: Randy Newman

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With apologies to the popular Disneyland attraction and video game, nearly everybody in America was experiencing Toy Story mania this past weekend. And chances are if a tune is running through our collective head, it’s Randy Newman’s “You’ve Got a Friend in Me,” which debuted in 1995’s Toy Story and is reprised in the third entry, estimated to have grossed $109 million on its opening weekend.

Yet that song enjoyed by kids of all ages reflects just one side of its composer’s dual nature. If Randy Newman’s Dr. Jekyll is the respected film composer and purveyor of timeless Disney songs that can stand alongside the Sherman Brothers’ best, his Mr. Hyde is the man behind an unparalleled series of albums joining classic songcraft to a singularly scathing, satirical wit. So on the occasion of America embracing Newman the Oscar-winning family tunesmith, Back Tracks looks now at the truly idiosyncratic solo catalog of the other Randy Newman, the songwriter who influenced a generation.  Join us after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

June 21, 2010 at 14:53

Posted in Features, Randy Newman, Reissues

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Friday Feature: “Toy Story”

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This week’s Friday Feature should come as no surprise. There’s one movie on more minds than any other this week: Toy Story 3, the 11th effort by Disney’s Pixar Animation Studios. Like the other films in the series, it promises to be a funny, adventurous and touching affair that adults will connect to as easily as kids. Like the others, it promises massive box office returns and universal acclaim (as of this writing, film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes has not picked up a single negative review, a feat also astoundingly attained by the previous entry in the series).

And, like the others, it will feature a score by Randy Newman. One of the sharpest pop/rock writers of the latter half of the rock era, Newman’s no slouch as a film composer. That phase of his career took off with a pair of Oscar nominations for the 1981 film Ragtime and an Elmer Bernstein-esque score to The Natural in 1985. (A year later, Newman would collaborate with Bernstein on Three Amigos! in 1986 – and a bit of mind-bending trivia: Newman also co-wrote the film with Steve Martin and Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels).

For the younger generation, though, Newman is renowned for those soundtracks he did for Disney films. In addition to all three Toy Story pictures, Newman scored A Bug’s Life (1998), Monsters Inc. (2001) and Cars (2006) for Pixar (as well as the stop-motion animated adaptation of James and the Giant Peach in 1996 and last year’s The Princess and the Frog). While they were all solid scores, the two Toy Story films are head and shoulders above the others. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mike Duquette

June 18, 2010 at 15:22