Saturday, December 03, 2005
Adam Baratz has a nice item about Randy Newman. His comparison with Stravinsky is interesting, although with Newman, it's the names of Schumann, Ives, and Brecht/Weill that first come into my mind, all of them song composers who are able maintain yet simultaneously move seamlessly outside the receieved framework and conventions of the song genre, allowing comment on the genre itself. I agree with Baratz's characterization of Newman as a meta-songwriter, and I'll even go one further. Sail Away (1973) , Good Old Boys (1974) , and Little Criminals (1977) are the finest song cycles of our time, and perhaps the best ever in American English. With a technique that is close to Schumannesque, these cycles allow Newman to combine the everyday riffs and jetsam of low musical cultural into a whole that is smart and startling. Further, his songs are political yet without the usual ephemeral and local qualities of political song. Both Ives and Brecht/Weill are precents and among contemporaries, Chico Buarque (try Buarque's Construcao) is perhaps the only colleague to match Newman's craft and imagination.