New On The Shelves

Randy Newman - BestHe started his career with a couple of hits that weren't hits for him: Three Dog Night picked up "Mama Told Me Not To Come," from his second album in 1970, and made it a hit of its own. And Joe Cocker nicked his "You Can Leave Your Hat On," from his next LP in 1972, and also got a chart hit out of it. But while Randy Newman's songs may have been on everyone's lips in the early '70s, nobody really heard of Newman, himself, until his tongue-in-cheek diatribe against "Short People," which reached No. 2 on the pop charts in 1977 as a novelty hit. And then he disappeared again. He went on to write smart, wry, witty, generally non-pop-chart-oriented songs but scored again with another refreshing novelty hit in the early days of MTV – "I Love L.A." Over the past couple of decades, Newman has focused more and more on soundtrack work, getting lots of Oscar and Grammy nominations in the process, and scoring a Tin Pan Alley style hit from "Toy Story" with "You've Got a Friend In Me." Now, Warner Bros. and Rhino Records have compiled a 21-song retrospective of Newman's 30-year recording career ,including all of those songs and other Newman stalwarts like "Political Science," "Sail Away," "Little Criminals," "Dixie Flyer" and "It's Money That I Love." If you didn't buy his four-CD box set a couple of years ago, The Best of Randy Newman isn't a bad single compilation CD to pick up. It does, however, miss one of his only big radio favorites: "It's Money That Matters," a Top 100 hit in 1988 that paired him with Dire Straits' Mark Knopfler. It also d oesn't include his Top 100 hit with Paul Simon in 1983,"The Blues." But it is interesting to hear how his original versions of "Mama Told Me" and "You Can Leave Your Hat On" sounded before Three Dog Night and Joe Cocker made them their own. The latter song's arrangement is similar to the hit version, the former sounds more "cajun" and has less of a chorus hook than Three Dog Night gave it.

X - Los AngelesPropelled by tight bass and guitar work, and the dual vocals of the young husband-wife team of Exene Cervenka and John Doe, X became one of the biggest names in early '80s punk music with albums like Los Angeles, Wild Gift and Under the Big Black Sun (all three produced by Ray Manzarek and originally released in 1980-1982). With more of a roots rock influence than many bands of the scene at the time, X specialized in merging rockabilly with frantic punk energy, while exploring the dark underbelly of the Hollywood myth. Now Rhino Records has re-issued the band's first three discs, each with a handful of bonus tracks – demo and rehearsal recordings and alternate mixes of songs recorded during this period. A must-have for X and early '80s punk fans. ...

Columbia/Legacy has put together a two-CD set covering the four-decade career of multi-instrumentalist Al Kooper. Rare & Well Done: The Greatest and Most Obscure Recordings of 1964-2001 includes his work with Blues Project and Blood, Sweat & Tears, as well as his solo work and collaborations with The Drifters, Stephen Stills, Charlie Daniels and more.

The soundtrack to Keanu Reeves' new movie "Hardball" is out, and features urban music from R. Kelly, Xscape, Jermaine Dupri, The Notorious B.I.G., Da Brat, Mobb Deep, Lil Bow Wow and more…


Cake - Comfort Eagle Cake
Comfort Eagle

Thanks to its avant hits "The Distance" and "Never There," Cake has successfully made a name for itself on the pop charts since its 1995 debut Motorcade of Generosity. The band's fourth disc (and first for Columbia) continues the formula of tight, angular guitar work melded with John McCrea's quirky, half-spoken singing style and often wryly humorous lyrics. They also continue to utilize funky basslines and punchy horn accents and even a touch of Eastern melodicism on occasion.

This time out, McCrea and company deal with typically odd themes like being an "Opera Singer," "Commissioning a Symphony in C," "and bad driving ("Long Line of Cars"), as well as a strong followup to "The Distance" in "Short Skirt/Long Jacket." On the latter radio-ready track, McCrea paints the picture of his perfect woman with his usual razor lyric sense, as he asks for a woman with "fingernails that shine like justice" and who "uses a machete to cut through red tape." He rap-speaks instead of sings throughout, noting:

"I want a girl with the right allocations
who is fast and is thorough and sharp as a tack
she's playing with her jewelry, she's putting up her hair
she's touring the facility and picking up slack
I want a girl with a short skirt and a long jacket."

While the band is not always "on," most of Comfort Eagle is a refreshingly different, yet still catchy collection of pop-rock tunes. Recommended for those who want more than just another album of silly love songs.