Category: Randy Newman

Randy Newman strips down -- his music -- in 'Songbook Vol. 2' due in May

Randy Newman-Mel Melcon 
Randy Newman is delving back into his considerable catalog to reinterpret songs with just his voice and piano in “Randy Newman Songbook Vol. 2,” due May 10.

The Grammy winner, who finds out Sunday whether he'll take home an Academy Award for his song “We Belong Together” from “Toy Story 3,” has recorded new versions of “Cowboy,” dating back to his 1968 debut album, “Randy Newman,” through “Laugh and Be Happy” and “Losing You” from his latest studio collection, “Harps and Angels,” and several others in between.

It’s the follow-up to his 2003 collection, in which he delivered solo piano versions of “Sail Away,” “Rednecks,” “Louisiana 1927,” “Political Science,” “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today,” “You Can Leave Your Hat On” and a dozen more.

The new album will be co-produced by Mitchell Froom, who produced the first one as well as Newman’s 1999 album, “Bad Love,” and Lenny Waronker, the veteran record executive and a childhood friend of Newman’s.

“His instincts are better than mine, in some respects,” Newman said of Waronker in a statement issued Wednesday by his label, Nonesuch Records. “He’s always been, for me, the most crucial person to my songwriting. I wanted to be the best that I could be. I always felt that Lenny wanted me to be better than that. I’m grateful to him.”

Earlier this month, he started a solo tour that will reach California on April 22 with a stop in San Francisco. No Southern California dates have been announced.

-- Randy Lewis

Photo of Randy Newman. Credit: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times

Harry Nilsson documentary opens Friday in West Hollywood

Harry Nilsson 1991 crop 
Songwriter Jimmy Webb calls him “the best singer of our generation.” Filmmaker and Monty Python alumnus Terry Gilliam describes him as “a fallen angel.” Randy Newman compares his knack for writing indelible melodies to Franz Schubert, Paul McCartney and Elton John. Superstar producer Richard Perry, among others, considers him the American counterpart to the Beatles.

They’re referring to Harry Nilsson, the Brooklyn-born, L.A.-transplant singer and songwriter whose extraordinary musical gifts were overshadowed only by his predilection for self-destruction, and whose heartbreaking life story is the focal point of “Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why is Everybody Talkin’ About Him)?” a deeply felt documentary opening a one-week Los Angeles theatrical run Friday at the Laemmle Sunset 5 in West Hollywood.

As comedian Tommy Smothers points out during the two-hour film, Nilsson’s name today elicits one of two reactions: tremendous admiration or a blank stare. He became part of the Beatles inner circle near the end of the band’s life, and continued close friendships with them after the breakup. He won two Grammy Awards: one for his 1969 recording of “Everybody’s Talkin’,” the Fred Neil song that was also used as the theme for “Midnight Cowboy,” the other in 1972 for his performance of the ballad “Without You.”

He penned hit songs for the Monkees (“Cuddly Toy”) and Three Dog Night (“One”) and was one of the earliest rock artists to give serious attention to the elegant Great American Songbook repertoire of pre-rock pop songs. At the same time, Nilsson was notorious as one of the hardest-partying rock stars of the '70s, a lifestyle that led to the heart attack that felled him at age 52 in 1994.

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Live review: Randy Newman at Royce Hall

Newman Randy Newman's best, most pointed songs usually will come around again with enough time, timely once more either from history repeating itself, or mankind living up to his worst expectations.

At his concert Friday for UCLA Live at Royce Hall, his quietly wounded and defiant “Louisiana 1927” told of another generation's devastating flood, but had new poignancy in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. And, sadly, the biting, hilarious detail of 1972's “Political Science” may never lose its relevance: “They all hate us anyhow / So let's drop the big one now.”

His two-hour solo performance of musical storytelling and ribald character studies began with the singer-songwriter ambling over to his Steinway, a man in black and a full head of white hair plucking the spooky melody from “Last Night I Had a Dream,” a dark and funny tale. It set a tone for the night.

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