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Classic Album Reviews: Randy Newman | Sail Away / Good Old Boys / Ragtime Reissues

Before he started writing children's songs, the southern singer-pianist was notorious for being one of the smartest, blackest-humoured songwriters of his generation.

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This came out in 2002 – or at least that’s when I got it. Here’s what I said about it back then (with some minor editing):

 


Old records never die — they just get deleted. Then, a few years or a few decades later, they get reissued. Usually with bonus tracks, remastered sound, expanded liner notes and other goodies because they think that will convince fans to buy them all over again. And it does. This summer, those evil reissue pixies have been working overtime, putting out multiple titles by some of your favourite artists. Here are some of their latest irresistible offerings. Damn them all to hell.

Randy Newman
Sail Away / Good Old Boys / Ragtime Reissues

WHO? Your kids probably know him as that ugly old guy who sings all those cartoon theme songs. Your dad might remember him from more adult fare like Short People and I Love L.A. But if you don’t know him as one of the smartest, blackest-humoured songwriters of his generation, it’s high time you were introduced.

WHAT? These aren’t Newman’s first three albums. But two of them — 1972’s Sail Away and 1974’s Good Old Boys — are among his best. His inessential but still worthwhile 1981 soundtrack score to Ragtime rounds out the trio for some reason.

WHICH? If you’re  new to Newman, start with Sail Away. It’s a great introduction to his irascible ironicism, from the slave-recruitment pitch of the title track to the eternally timely Political Science (“Let’s drop the big one now”). Good Old Boys, by contrast, is not for first-timers. It’s a far darker and more provocative disc — a concept album about racism, cruelty and poverty in the Deep South of the early 20th century, with disturbing cuts like Rednecks (“We’re keeping the n—s down”). Each comes with bonus demos — an entire album’s worth in the case of Good Old Boys. Finally, the period-piece instrumentals of Ragtime show Newman was just as gifted a musician as a songwriter.

WHY? Because he was Elvis Costello when Elvis Costello was in short pants.