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Harps & Angels

4.2 out of 5 stars 74 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Randy Newman's first studio album of all new material in nearly a decade is, by turns, hilarious, poignant and scathingly satirical. Harps and Angels often has an easy going Crescent City feel, with Newman on piano fronting a small combo and revealing, as Rolling Stone put it after the Carnegie Hall show, his serious love and study of the New Orleans piano tradition.
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Digital Booklet: Harps and Angels
Digital Booklet: Harps and Angels
Album Only

Product Details

  • Audio CD (August 5, 2008)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Nonesuch
  • ASIN: B001AN5BNM
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (74 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #99,986 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Gregory M. Wasson on August 6, 2008
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
First, let's get the easy part out of the way - "Harps and Angels" is another great album from Randy Newman. If you like Newman, you won't regret the purchase.

For 40 years or so Randy Newman has been the troubadour of his generation, using razor-sharp wit and a soundscape steeped in Americana that is both the perfect foil for his irony and somehow deeply affecting at the same time. He understands America as it is, skewering its icons while empathizing with its losers. His songs are almost innocent in their underlying yearning for an America that could have been, but wasn't.

"Harps and Angels" continues in the same introspective vein that was so startling in "Bad Love." Newman was in his mid-50s when "Bad Love" was released. "Harps and Angels" catches Randy Newman in his mid-60s. On both albums, the songs are remarkably personal. All but gone are songs like "Birmingham," "It's Lonely At the Top," and "Lucinda," in which Newman uses a central fictional character, whether telling the story in the first person or the third, to make precise, gemlike incisions into the narcissistic confabulation which has become the American dream. In their place are songs that are ruminations by a middle-aged man about himself, the people he knows, and the world he lives in. The tunes in "Harps and Angels" are no less unsparing, insightful and laugh out loud funny than those in "Sail Away," or "Trouble in Paradise," but they are songs written by a man looking back on his life and times, knowing that the end, if not quite in sight, will be here soon enough.

In "Harps and Angels" Newman's awareness of his own mortality is everywhere.
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Format: Audio CD
I did not expect so many of the songs on this short (34 min.) new offering to be raps -- Newman talks over his piano accompaniment with orchestral embellishment. Newman has used this technique effectively in the past, on "The Girls In My Life" from the Born Again album. The title track is a conversational rap, and it's a complete success. "In Defense of My Country" also works nicely as Newman talks, not sings, his lines.

I can't be as enthusiastic about Easy Street (half spoken, half sung), or "Potholes" (mostly spoken). Nor did I find the melodies on "A Piece of The Pie" or "Korean Parents" particularly appealing.

Lyrically, Newman ruminates on the state of the nation, and some topics related to aging and mortality, love that you appreciate (Feels Like Home) and love that's lost (Losing You). It's sharp stuff, but not as sharp as the old days. Well, what can you expect but a slight mellowing from a Randy Newman who's on the cusp of Social Security?

The orchestration is lovely -- it will take you right back to the classic albums he did in the mid 70's. Laugh And Be Happy sounds a bit like burlesque show music, and A Piece Of The Pie is very theatrical. The other arrangements will sound very familiar to Randy Newman fans -- bringing to mind Ragtime-era turn-of-previous-century fare.

The sound quality is not so lovely. It favors the midrange, the dynamics are compressed. Such is the fashion in audio engineering these days, but it makes Newman's voice more grating and froggy than it should be, and Newman's voice doesn't need any help in that department.

The title track and A Few Words In Defense... are standout tracks. The one that tops them all is the final cut, Feels Like Home. I actually thought this song was penned by Chantal Kreviazuk.
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Format: Audio CD
Randy Newman gets a three-star head-start for being Randy Newman, but this is an oddly anemic effort. It's billed as an album of all new material, but it's not: "Laugh & Be Happy" was written for the Pixar animators easily 15 years ago in response to the Evil Mouse meddling; "Feels Like Home" is from Faust, also going back close to 15 years now. Several other songs feel like cast-offs from earlier albums/projects. Among those that don't, several of those feel like Randy Newman consciously writing Randy Newman songs, instead of simply writing songs.

Don't get me wrong, that three-star head-start comes with a lot of gifts: intricate internal harmonies, lush string arrangements, and a barbed, rambunctious and often simply hilarious sense of irony, in bold display here to an extent often nodded at but not usually found in such raw abundance on his records (as opposed to live performances).

And there are pleasures to be found here, to be sure, not least of which the twisted "Korean Parents," and the one-sided conversations that serve as bridges in several of the tunes. But if you're licking your chops waiting to get your synapses fired off by 9 years of deliciously marinating Newman tunes, I'm afraid you'll have to settle for a few light appetizers and an entertaining waiter.
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Format: Audio CD
Randy Newman is modern day, singing Voltaire who has turned his prodigious wit on a selection of social concerns that lead him to question whether the best days of the US Imperium are over. His targets here are the more serious offenders: religious humbuggery ("Harps & Angels"), failed political leadership ("A Few Word in Defense of Our Country"), lack of engagement with the serious concerns of our times ("Laugh & be Happy"), social and financial inequality ("Piece of The Pie"), dysfunctional relationships ("Only a Girl"), and parental confusion ("Korean parents"). There are two particularly beautiful ballads on this album that are likely to outlive the ephemeral political concerns of the other material. "Loosing You" is the confession of a middle aged man who has it all, but remains haunted by profound loss. The counterbalance is the wonderfully orchestrated ballad "Feels Like Home". The narrator finds love again after a long respite, returning to a place where he feels a profound sense of belonging. The essence of the song is encapsulated in this beautiful line: "feels like I'm on my way back where I'm from, with your embrace, down a long dark street and a sigh of wind in the night. It's alright, `cause I have you here with me, and I can almost see the dark feels light". Randy Newman is a marvel. I saw him live at the Capitol in Sydney in the late 1970's. For me, at times he projects the persona of a curmudgeon at a pantomime, but his wonderful catalogue belies any misanthropy. He is a great American, but more importantly a citizen of the world, in love with the best the human race has to offer, but vigilant about its failings. May he live forever.
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