In addition to being one of our greatest American singer- songwriters and film composers, Newman long ago established himself among our sharpest and most caustic wits. Calling his inspired new album The Randy Newman Songbook, Vol. I seems like a curiously upbeat and straightforward act for this frequently wry fellow. Yeah, it's not my style to look ahead with confidence, Newman confesses. I'm basically asking for it with a title like that. Come to think of it, I could have called it something safer and more horrible like Looking Back At My Life, but I just didn't give it that much thought.
If it's not Newman's style to look forward with optimism, it's also not his personal preference to look back, whether in anger or in any other emotion. Yet somehow he still does so brilliantly on The Randy Newman Songbook, Vol. I, his illuminating first effort for the Nonesuch label. The eighteen-song set finds Newman singing and playing piano on powerful new solo versions of his early classics (I Think It's Going To Rain Today, Sail Away, You Can Leave Your Hat On), his more recent gems (The World Isn't Fair, The Great Nations of Europe) as well as a few examples of the Oscar-winning composer's film music (themes from Avalon and Ragtime, as well as When She Loved Me from Toy Story 2) and even a favorite stray obscurity (Let Me Go, a song originally written for the 1972 Norman Lear movie The Pursuit of Happiness).