Consisting of fourteen tracks gathered from three consecutive live shows recorded in September 1970, Randy Newman Live
isn’t exactly an essential album. Its main appeal lies in the simple execution of the songs, as this is just a laidback Randy and his piano in front of an audience.
The music sounds quite different from Newman's heavily-orchestrated debut, on which no less than 75 musicians contributed. By consequence, the five songs that are pulled from that album are the most interesting - devoid of the bombastic arrangements of their studio counterparts, they're a lot more digestible.
OK, I’m over-stressing the unsettling influence of the strings on that debut album a bit, but still, just compare the minimal solo version of “Living without You” or “Cowboy” to the studio versions. And the highlights from the debut, “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today” and “Davy the Fat Boy”, which were so dependent on their original terrific arrangements, still work well here, as Newman wallows in a silencing intimacy in the first, and a remarkable uneasiness in the second.
The songs from 12 Song
s haven't changed that much. The highlights are a rushed version of “Old Kentucky Home” that sees Newman almost getting lost in the vocals, and “Yellow Man”, that he introduces as 'a kind of pinhead’s view of China'.
The five remaining songs weren’t released as studio tracks at the time this album was recorded. The best two - “Last Night I Had a Dream”, and the mocking “Lonely at the Top” - would wind up on the next studio album in very similar versions. The others are less interesting, but “Tickle Me” is delightfully silly, and the ultra-short (1:25) “Maybe I’m Doing It Wrong” is over before you realize it.
All in all, Randy Newman Live
doesn’t offer anything stunning or particularly insightful, but it’s always interesting to hear a great artist toying around with the bare essentials of his craft. Rated:
by Reviewer: Guy Peters
(blogging at Guy's Music Review Site