Randy Newman Songbook, Vol. 2 (CD Review)

Randy Newman

The Randy Newman Songbook, Vol. 2

Nonesuch CD

Randy Newman has gained acclaim for his Hollywood film scores, which deploy full orchestrations alongside his singing and piano-playing. His studio albums have featured similar instrumental line-ups, something that’s given his pop a classy sheen that’s served as something of an ironic foil for the ofttimes biting satire of his lyrics. It’s refreshing to hear the songs from Newman’s pop canon in a stripped down setting: you’ll hardly miss the strings!

In this, the second Nonesuch release on which Newman performs his best known songs solo, with only a grand piano for company, one learns or is reminded of, several things about the artist at this stage of his career. First, he’s still a mighty fine piano player, shuffling through mid tempo rags and drawing forth imaginative voicings in a style that may at times sound deceptively simple, but is anything but simplistic. A supple sense of timing is omnipresent, and Newman’s use of articulation and a wide dynamic range help to remind one of the instruments featured in the original recordings of these songs. Newman’s voice has always been a distinctive one; expressive rather than “pretty.” And if it’s lost a fair amount of the limited lilt it had when he was younger, and if a few high notes strain more than they used to, it’s still remarkable to hear the characters his singing calls forth, and the way that he can inhabit a song.

This CD’s been in the stereo quite a bit this summer. And one of the marks of its durability is the amount of times tracks have been repeated to get a second listen to a particularly fetching rendition. Those who suggest that Newman’s songbook has too many similar-sounding entries need to listen more carefully; there’s a lot going on above those shuffles; both musical and lyrical nuances. Hearing him perform the songs in this intimate setting underscores their vitality.

Jon Anderson: Without Yes, but still an Affirming Artist

Jon Anderson

Survival and Other Stories

After lengthy legal wrangling, Chris Squire holds the rights to the name of prog-rock band Yes (he’s the only one who hasn’t, at some point or another during its four decade history, quit the band!). Still, from an outsider’s perspective, it can’t help but seem churlish that the other members of Yes have ousted Jon Anderson, the band’s vocalist on all but one of its albums (Drama), in favor of a singer from a Yes cover band.

It’s more than a bit satisfying to find Anderson in such fine voice on a solo effort, Survival and Other Stories. Anderson’s solution to being “between bands” was to engage a host of collaborators via the internet. Despite trading mp3s back and forth and engaging in most of the interactions remotely, the results are surprisingly cohesive.

Survival brings together various strands of Anderson’s musical interests – Celtic, folk, New Age, prog rock – resulting in a collection that’s likely to please fans from various stages of his storied career. And, to answer the inevitable question, the 67 year-old can still hit all his high notes – with aplomb!

7/7: The Pearl and the Beard plus Franz Nicolay tonight in Williamsburg

Brooklyn trio The Pearl and the Beard describe themselves as “three voices, one cello, one guitar, one glockenspiel, one melodica, several drums, one accordion, ninety-six teeth, and one soul.” All of these – well, maybe not the teeth – will be brought to bear in their show tonight at Music Hall in Williamsburg.

The Pearl and the Beard: Sweetness (MP3 download)

Opening for PatB is our favorite banjo wielding, songwriting, ex-Hold Steady member, Franz Nicolay.

Music Hall of Williamsburg (details here)

Doors open at 8; show starts at 9

Over 16 event

Sophia Knapp 7″ Single (Vinyl review)

SophiA Knapp

Nothing to Lose

Drag City DC456 (7″/MP3/FLAC)

Sophia Knapp is probably best known for her work in the band Lights, a group that has recently morphed into Cliffie Swan (their debut was released a couple weeks ago on Drag City). In the midst of this transition, she recorded a single, “Nothing to Lose,” which is also recently out on Drag City. Those who think that vinyl’s audiophile reputation isn’t all that and a bag of chips need to spin this clear 7″ disc. Eugene Wasserman’s 5-string bass lines provide an earthbound anchor for Knapp’s ethereal singing, which breaks into supple harmonies during the hook. Keyboardist Jay Israelson lays down undulating, slightly bluesy, Wurlitzer licks to complete the package.

The b-side is a remix of the song by Caroline Polacheck. She employs a gentle hand here, supplying additional synth halos and tweaking the vocals here and there. But mostly, she rides the golden bass-line and entrancing singing that are already present, pointing up the single’s virtues rather than, as so many remixers sadly are wont to do, obscuring them.

Are 7″ singles still relevant in the MP3 era? If “Nothing to Lose” is the yardstick by which we consider this question, the answer is a resounding yes!


Note: We review lots of CDs and videos at File Under ?, but we’re always interested in alternative formats. So, if you are pressing a vinyl recording – be it 7″, 10″, or 12″ – for release, or if you’re putting out a cassette or a 3″ CD, please keep us in mind!

Bobby: self-titled debut (CD review)

Partisan Records CD

Bobby, a band based in Montague, Massachusetts, shares some personnel with Mountain Man (including vocalist Molly Sarle) and is filled with alums from Bennington and Hampshire Colleges. Both of these schools are places that encourage self-starters to pursue eclectic courses of study, and this shows in the group’s self-titled debut. It manages to harness the intimacy of bedroom pop while eschewing a lo-fi aesthetic in favor of a spacious, layered production aesthetic.

If one tried to pin down Bobby to a single genre, they’d likely be oversimplifying matters. The band is fascinated with the polymetric constructions of African drumming and the structures of Javanese gamelan. At the same time, the pastoral arrangements that are buoyed by these intricate rhythms frequently channel alt-folk. Sarle’s supple voice and phrasing remind one in places of Vashti Bunyan. She and band founder Tom Greenberg are fetching partners in several vocal duets on the recording. What’s more, there’s more than a smidgen of electronics savoring the mix, creating surprising juxtapositions with the more rustic post-psych guitar textures.

While locating all of these various signatures requires concentration, one’s labors are amply compensated by the often beautiful musical concoctions Bobby has on offer.


Bobby is out on 6/21 via Partisan Records.

Lelia Broussard

Lelia Broussard is one of 16 unsigned artists competing for a chance to be on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine. And while this pop songstress may not be crafting game changers quite yet, her song “Satellite” is a catchy, winsome number that could certainly give the likes of Sara Bareilles a run for her money!

If you’re so inclined, you can vote for Lelia or any of the other unsigned acts here.

Sharon Van Etten covers REM at Bowery Ballroom (video)

One of our favorite alt-folk singer-songwriters, Sharon van Etten covered REM in her set the other night at the Bowery Ballroom.

If you haven’t heard Sharon’s latest recording, Epic (out now on Ba Da Bing), get thee forthwith to a record seller!