Randy Newman eyes own ghosts on "Harps and Angels"

Thu Aug 7, 2008 4:22pm EDT
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By Derek Caney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Randy Newman's musical world has always been populated with unsavory characters -- racists, rapists, sociopaths -- and dark themes that often belied the songwriter's gift for a compelling melody and a love for blues, R&B and rock 'n' roll.

On his latest album, "Harps and Angels," which was released earlier this week, he adds another element to his songs: his own, unadorned voice.

"I've been getting closer to writing things that could be called autobiographical," Newman told Reuters. "I'm finding stuff closer to me than I used to."

One example is the new song "Potholes," about the songwriter's failed attempt at baseball as a child and his father's insistence on reliving the narrator's moment of failure.

"That's 100 percent the truth. I couldn't have made that up," Newman said.

The personalized songs represent a change of pace for Newman, whose biggest hit, "Short People," was written in the voice of a bigot and was widely misunderstood to be Newman's own feelings. But like many of his songs, Newman was writing with irony and in "Short People" looking at prejudice.

"I don't worry about (being misunderstood) much anymore," he said. "I always hated the word 'irony,' but it's the only word I've ever been able to use to describe what I do. People are better about it now because there are more shows like 'The Simpsons' and 'The Office.' The audience has gotten more sophisticated."

While many of his songs may seem simple because of their wry titles, Newman's work demand much from his audience. His 1968 debut album closes with a jaunty tune, "Davy the Fat Boy," in which a mother asks the narrator to care for her obese son. The narrator obliges by parading him in a freak show.   Continued...

<p>Musician Randy Newman performs during the Macworld Convention and Expo in San Francisco, California January 15, 2008. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith</p>