Since the release of his first album in 1968, singer and songwriter Randy Newman has been known for writing wry, and sometimes raw, songs about everyday life. Newman's musical journey has taken him from writing pop hits like "I Love L.A.," and "Short People," to Academy Award nominations for his scores for movies including "Toy Story", "Seabiscuit" and "Ragtime," and an Oscar win for the song "If I Didn't Have You," from "Monsters, Inc."
Tim O'Brien's bluegrass-folk version of "Sail Away" kicks off the new Randy Newman tribute CD of the same name. Taking on the catalog of an artist as prolific as Randy Newman is a daunting task, which could explain why producer Steve Fishell decided to concentrate on songs that Newman wrote during the 1970s. But just because the songs on this CD are older, don't think they aren't relevant to today. A prime example is "Louisiana 1927," sung by guitar virtuoso Sonny Landreth. The song was written in 1974, about a devastating 1927 flood of Louisiana's lowlands. But "Louisiana 1927" has been mentioned so many times in the aftermath of last year's Hurricane Katrina that it has become an anthem for some survivors.
Randy Newman was born into a musical family in Los Angeles, California, and was raised around the film industry. But the mark of a great songwriter is the ability to make fiction sound like fact. And the mark of a great singer is the ability to make someone else's words sound like your own life story, as Del McCoury does with Newman's "Birmingham," a tale of a life Newman never lived in the American south.
Musicians who have long been fans of Randy Newman, and have recorded his songs include Ray Charles, Joe Cocker, Barbra Streisand, Elvis Costello and Bonnie Raitt. If you're not familiar with his work, Sail Away: The Songs of Randy Newman is a fine place to start discovering one of America's finest writers.
Other performers on the new compilation include Allison Moorer, Steve Earle, Sam Bush, and Bela Fleck, who contributes a solo banjo version of "Burn On."