Friday, October 24, 2008

The greatest living singer-songwriter

I heard - indeed, was rivetted by - Randy Newman on BBC Radio Four's Desert Island Discs this morning. (I'd provide a link here, but for peculiar 'music rights' reasons, Desert Island Discs is not available on iPlayer or Listen again) For the first time in my life I was convinced that Kirsty Young actually knew what she was talking about: insightful questions, for the most part, though she ignored( I think: had to do morning stuff as I listened) the huge importance in the post-Katrina rehab of New Orleans of the astonishing song Louisiana 1927.

Newman (Oscar-winning soundtrack composer, orchestrator, arranger, notably on Toy Story I and II) is the greatest living singer-songwriter, despite(or because) of only making three albums in the last 20 years. His music, often drawing on hymnology and ragtime, veers from the achingly simple to meticulous parody and classical tribute. But his lyrics are easily the equal of Raymond Carver's best epigrammatic short stories. He is unafraid of truly appalling, and sometimes compulsively seductive first-person narrators (Rednecks, Short People) or of dealing in multi-layered narratives. He goes where no other songwriter has ever gone, both in black humour (Political Science) and this, a song which leaves me breathless and awed every time I hear it. Sorry about the sound quality and the uneasily moronic laughter at the start. But this is as sophisticated and emotionally insightful as songwriting has ever been.

Oh, and Desert Island Discs is repeated on Sunday morning. There's loads more performance stuff on YouTube.

1 comment:

jim stewart said...

Harry Chapin was better but a truck got him in revenge for a song about Bananas