Randy Newman has never been the most prolific singer-song writer in the biz. But at long last, he’s starting to get personal on a new studio album.
For Randy Newman, it’s always been about quality, not quantity. Over the course of a career that’s spanned five decades, he’s release drelatively few albums compared with his singer-song writer contemporaries. “And I’ve always beat myself up a little about nothaving produced more,” says 64-year-old Newman. “So much time has goneby, and I’ve only done a handful of records. I mean, Elton John made three albums while I was sitting by the pool.”
While Newman hasn’t exactly been idle -- he’s occupied himself with a career as an Academy Award–winning composer for films -- it has been nearly 10 years since he recorded his last proper studio album, Bad Love. But his new effort, Harps and Angels (Nonesuch, $19), shows little in the way of rust: Newman has turned out a sparkling batch of songs that shows off his trenchant wit, his gift for evocative musical arrangements, and his distinctive nasal rasp.
The album, out this month, continues Newman’s subtle shift away from signature character studies and toward increasingly personal narratives. “More and more, the characters in the songs are me or little variations of me,” he says. “It’s not all the truth; there are still a few lies in there. But you can put yourself in a box if everything you write is completely in character.”
In addition to producing seven new songs, Newman revisits a trio of numbers from his catalog, including 2007’s wry political commentary “A Few Words in Defense of Our Country” and the wistful ballad “Feels Like Home,” a song originally written for Bonnie Raitt and about which Newman says,“It’s borderline whether I can actually sing it.”
Despite his admitted vocal limitations, one could argue that no one sings Newman quite like Newman. “I like my voice, actually. It can’t do everything, but neither can a lot of people who think they can. [Opera-pop singer]Josh Groban’s got a nice voice in a traditional way, but there are things he can’t do, and he proves it occasionally,” Newman says, chuckling.
After he finishes scoring Pixar’s Toy Story 3 and Disney’s The Princess and the Frog, he hopes to return to writing more solo material. But even if another decade passes between albums, he’s more than satisfied with Harps and Angels.
“I’ve been saying to people that I think it’s the best record I’ve made. Then, it dawned on me that I hadn’t heard some of the stuff I’d done in years,” Newman says. “So I went back and listened to a bunch of it, and I still think this is the best record I’ve made. It’s shameful I didn’t do more, but maybe they wouldn’t have been as good if I’d done twice as many.”