Review by Roland Bruynesteyn
Album assigned by Nina Anatchkova
Randy Newman shares some characteristics with the typical West Coast singer songwriters of the 70’s, apart from the fact that he sings and writes his own songs: slick production, hiring the same session musicians and covering a wide range of topics in his songs. Also, like good singer songwriting stuff, it can be appreciated in two ways: as simple not offensive background music, while you’re reading a book and while listening with concentration to the lyrics. But he goes way further.
First, his voice is somewhat of an acquired taste, and not in the ‘easy listening’ James Taylor/Jackson Browne category. Second, many of his songs have an old timey feel, and sound as if they could have been sung in a musical (and Randy moved on, later in his career, towards writing many very successful film scores). Furthermore, his advanced arranging skills reward repeated listening; there is a lot happening. Take the strings for instance: with artists like the Eagles strings generally embellish the sound, making it sound fuller and more complete, taking it beyond country rock. Fine. But in Randy’s music, the strings do not have a supporting role, they strongly add to the dynamics and often play counter melodies, making the sum of the parts bigger.
Third, whereas your typical singer songwriter tackled topics close to his or her personal life, Randy is less introspective and covers many different topics, ranging from vertically challenged people to Germany in the 1930’s. He shows himself to be a great observer, not unlike Bob Dylan and he has meaningful things to say. A little less poetic than Dylan perhaps, and (quite) a bit more sardonic: in this respect he resembles Donald Fagen and Walter Becker of Steely Dan.
You basically cannot go wrong with Randy Newman in the 70’s and Little Criminals is a great example of the man’s talent as the thinking man’s (as apart from the only feeling man’s) singer songwriter!