Randy Newman - Songbook Vol 1

Randy Newman has had a long and storied career, thanks to his biting lyrical wit and easy piano stylings. He’s survived having a novelty hit in the early ‘70s with “Short People” and gone on to critical acclaim as a piano-based songwriter working in a variety of styles, from pop to R&B to ragtime. He hit it big again in the ‘80s with songs like “I Love L.A.” and “It’s Money That Matters” and then turned to working on a flurry of Grammy-nominated soundtracks.

Newman has now gone back through his catalogue to record The Randy Newman Songbook, Vol. 1 which features solo (Newman and a piano) versions of some of his most respected works, from “It’s Lonely at the Top” and “Sail Away” to “You Can Leave Your Hat On,” “Political Science” and his theme to the movie Ragtime.

It’s like listening to an intimate living room concert from Newman, who plans to follow this release with two more volumes on the Nonesuch Records label.

 

FeathermerchantsChris Daniels and the Kings have issued one of the more unique CD packages of the year in The Spark (the CD comes in a cardboard box with a liner note booklet fashioned to look like an aged keyboard with the heads of the Kings topping each note. Packaging aside, Daniels and his Kings put together a nice roots rock party album, moving from R&B soul to country swing over the course of a dozen songs.

Standouts include the witty duet “Biggest Heartache on the Block” and the boogie woogie horn and piano swing of “Jump.” For more information, check the web site at http://www.chrisdaniels.com.

 

Barbara Streisand has directed and starred in a number of box office smashes over the years, and her music has often been linked to Hollywood as well. With her latest recording, The Movie Album, on Columbia, Streisand looks back and offers her own versions of songs from movies that inspired her work. Songs here are taken from 1936’s Modern Times (“Smile”), 1935’s Every Night At Eight (“I’m in the Mood For Love”), 1957’s Wild is the Wind (title song), 1982’s Best Friends (“How Do You Keep the Music Playing?”) and more.

 

Mariah Carey was once one of the top-charting female artists of all time. Since her career abruptly fell off the face of the earth with her past two albums, Columbia has tried to cash in on her past successes by issuing The Remixes, a new two-disc collection of remixes of her hits “Fantasy,” “Honey,” “Dreamlover,” “Emotions” and more.

 

FeathermerchantsAnother nice independently released effort comes from The Feathermerchants in Unarmed Against The Dark.  Singer Shannon Kennedy’s sweet vocal style and the band’s warm, laidback twangy delivery will appeal to fans of Cowboy Junkies, The Moon Seven Times, Over the Rhine and Grey Eye Glances.

The band offers 10 originals on this disc, as well as a surprising rootsy re-reading of “Heartbreak Beat” the best charting moment for the Psychedelic Furs some 17 years ago. The Furs’ synthesizers are replaced here by organic drums, wistful vocals and a dobro! Band founder and lead songwriter Peter Veru picks up the mic for a change of pace on “Farmer’s Night Out” and proves the depth of talent lurking in this act.

This is the New York band’s second album, and first with Kennedy. It’s a rich, warm outing, and hopefully will be the first of many discs from this talented young band. For more information, check www.feathermerchants.com.

 

Lucky Boys ConfusionChicago’s own Lucky Boys Confusion appeared in Schaumburg this week to promote the release of their new Elektra CD Commitment. The band cancelled its debut party at Chicago’s Metro last night, however, so that they could get to the coast in time to start their tour. While you’d think the boys would insist on having their album debut party at home, the band promises to return in November. In the meantime, local fans should definitely pick up a copy of Commitment, a solid punk-pop effort that betrays influences from Green Day and Good Charlotte (especially on the pounding single “Hey Driver”) and offers a chiming early Kings X-like chorus in “Mr. Wilmington.”

The album includes stomping punk in “Commitment,” 20something angst a la New Found Glory in “Atari” and even a couple doses of reggae dub (Half Pint toasts on the mellow “Sunday Afternoon,” which has harmonies to make the Backstreet Boys weep.) In “Ordinary,” the band even celebrates “the south side of Chicago” in its poppy beat but melancholy lyrics about a life gone sour. Commitment pitches a nice mix of full-on rock with occasional harmony-strong change-ups like “Ordinary.”

Recommended.