Musicians have long been huge fans of Randy Newman. Long before the mega-hits from soundtracks in recent years Newman has been blazing a path as one of the great American songwriters in modern history. An insider's favorite for scathing wit and keen insight with a razor-sharp turn of phrase, the musical artists on Sail Away: The Songs Of Randy Newman leapt at the chance to apply their distinctive signatures onto the work of a master. Sail Away: The Songs Of Randy Newman pairs an iconoclastic songwriter with artists young and established to breath new life - and newfound relevance to modern times - into the eternal song craft of Randy Newman. Features Tim O'Brien, Sonny Landreth, The Del McCoury Band, Allison Moorer, Steve Earl, Bela Fleck, Sam Bush, The Duhks, Kim Richey and more.
Irony is a difficult concept to convey, especially in a musical context. Which makes covering Randy Newman, one of pop music's most devastatingly accurate ironists, such a difficult and thankless proposition. Harry Nilsson was one of the few to be successful at the task, on his classic Nilsson Sings Newman
, but, generally Newman's iconoclastic style--filled with the blackest of humor, witty sarcasm, and dry, scathing satire--doesn't lend itself well to cover versions. This collection wisely sticks to a vague concept: Southern musicians (as is New Orleans native Newman) tackling the songwriter's early work, which was largely about the South and its inhabitants. All of these tracks were written in the '70s, but the sociopolitical concepts of American imperialism ("Political Science"), Louisiana floodwaters ("Louisiana 1927"), callous politicians ("Mr. President [Have Pity on the Working Man])," and rednecks (well, "Rednecks") makes this music as pertinent today as when it was released. A few of these versions succeed due to the sympathetic nature of artists such as Sonny Landreth (who changes "cracker" to the more PC "Cajun and Creole man" in "Louisiana 1927"), Tim O'Brien ("Sail Away"), Kim Richey ("Texas Girl at the Funeral of Her Father"), and bluegrass icon Del McCoury ("Birmingham"). But generally, even intelligent musicians such as Steve Earle, Marc Broussard, and the Duhks, whose hearts are in the right place, can't extract the appropriate subtleties in the lyrics and music to accomplish anything other than sending listeners back to the source. Which might ultimately be the best result of this well-meaning but ultimately futile tribute to one of America's finest and most underappreciated songwriters. --Hal Horowitz