HEAR YE: Randy Newman Harps And Angels

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UNCUT: Harps & Angels provokes approximately equal parts gratitude that Newman got around to it, and vexation that he doesn’t do this sort of thing more often. Exactly 40 years since his eponymous solo debut, it’s both awesome and faintly depressing how few compete in his league. Harps & Angels consists of just 10 tracks, and has a running time that falls just short of 35 minutes, yet freights multitudes, musically and lyrically. That opening line introduces the title track, a gradually building, slowly sumptuous, New Orleans-flavoured jazz shimmy. Over this, Newman unspools the tale of a man sucking what he believes are his dying breaths on a pavement, only to be visited by an inexplicably Francophone celestial being who admits to the narrator that his time isn’t up just yet – and, by way of atoning for the clerical error, offers some advice towards a better, more observant life. Most of Harps & Angels, like much of Newman’s canon, is similar glorious, if bleak, whimsy. His formidable backing band, comprising producer Mitchell Froom on keyboards, Attractions drummer Pete Thomas, virtuoso jazz bassist Greg Cohen, veteran session guitarist Steve Donnelly and pedal steel player Greg Leisz, conspire with a full-dress orchestra to confect country ballads, show tunes, Dixieland balladry, oriental pop and, on “Laugh And Be Happy”, a groundbreaking enterprise in sarcastic Charleston. MORE

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