Essential New Music: Randy Newman’s “The Randy Newman Songbook”

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In 2003, Randy Newman began re-recording, solo and at the piano, a selection of songs from throughout his nearly 50-year musical career. This four-album vinyl set collects those Songbook recordings, plus those on the 2011 follow-up and this year’s Volume Three, along with five bonus tracks, to showcase Newman’s slash-and-burn wit and compositional chops. Newman is in excellent voice throughout—rather astonishingly excellent voice, in fact, playing and singing with crackling precision. That quality, and the intimate solo setting, make even his most widely known tunes (like “I Love To See You Smile” and “Mama Told Me Not To Come”) sound fresh, and his more lacerating ones sound sharper; on “Rednecks,” Newman wrote a song that apparently will always sound as shocking as it did the first time you heard it, which very few artists in any medium can claim to have done. As an anthology of Newman’s varied songwriting styles it’s a winner, and the spirited new recordings will please even career-long fans.

—Eric Waggoner