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Still Guilty After All These Years (04/23/99) Write to CD Shakedown

30 YearsRandy Newman, Guilty: 30 Years (Rhino/Warner Archive 1998) - Guilty: 30 Years is a four-disk career retrospective for Randy Newman, one of America's best songwriters. Guilty boasts more than 100 tracks, covering Newman's career both as a recording artist (including the million-selling hit single, "Short People," and Southern California's unofficial anthem, "I Love L.A.") and composer of film scores (including cuts from The Natural, Awakenings, Maverick, Toy Story, and James and the Giant Peach).

Randy NewmanNow age 55, Newman is a native of Los Angeles, and studied music at UCLA. Newman's first single was produced by Pat Boone and Jimmie Haskell, and released in 1962. Within a year, the UCLA musical composition student was signed to Metric Music as a staff writer. Newman's first album was a self-titled 1968 release, followed by the acclaimed 12 Songs in 1970, big-seller Little Criminals in 1977, and the under-recognized Randy Newman's Faust in 1995.

Sail AwayYet many fans would recognize 1972's Sail Away as his greatest achievement, with such songs as "Sail Away," "Lonely at the Top," and "Cleveland." No less a songwriter than Brian Wilson remembers being enchanted by Sail Away upon its release, and says that he listened to it for hours on end.

While disk four showcases Newman's film scores, disks one and two feature recordings from his nine studio albums, with disk three gathering odds and ends, including demos, live materials, rarities, and previously unreleased cuts. The liner notes (prepared in the impeccable Rhino tradition) include photos from Newman's personal archives, as well as notes from long-time friends and co-producers, Russ Titelman and Lenny Waronker.

Newman has three adult sons, one of whom, Amos, works for Glen Ballard's Java label. He lives in the Hollywood hills and goes to work each morning in his living room. Explains Newman, "My taste does not correlate with the taste of the general public, for the most part. There are a number of people who love my records, but there aren't enough of them to make it a booming industry. It's a very fringe kind of operation. I don't think I could make much of a living from my records; maybe a fair living."

Newman adds, "In my opinion, an artist like me couldn't get started in the business. There are few record companies now which would give you the time I was given to develop. I mean, it has never been a million records with me."

The pensive Randy NewmanYet after 30 years with Warner, Newman followed friend Lenny Waronker to the DreamWorks label, where he will release a new album, Bad Love (scheduled for release on June 1, 1999). Adds Newman, "I've sent Warner an amusing letter of resignation, and I haven't heard anything. It's like trying to find a general to surrender to. I think I'm gone, you know? And I signed with Dream Works and I haven't heard from them! The people I'm leaving don't give a shit that I'm leaving and the people I'm going to don't give a shit that I'm coming!"

There's something missing in Guilty: 30 Years, and that is the cohesive feel of Newman's studio recordings. While songs like "Rednecks" and "Dixie Flyer" remain terrific singles, Newman is meant to be listened to as a whole on albums like Land of Dreams (1988) and Good Ol' Boys (1974).

Yet that's the complaint of a fan familiar with the music; new listeners and fans of great music should enjoy Guilty: 30 Years of Randy Newman.

Top SecretTommy McCook and the Super Sonic, Top Secret (Beatville Records 1969/1999) - Top Secret is a reissue of an underground classic that has only been available on LP since its release 30 years ago. Mixing a horn-oriented jazzy ska sound with the soulful feel of Booker T and the MG's, Top Secret is a delight from front to end.

Tommy McCook 1927-1998The late Tommy McCook was the sax man for the Skatalites. For Top Secret, he assembled ska greats Lloyd Knibb, Lloyd Brevett, Lyn Tate, and Jackie Mittoo as well as trumpet legend Bobby Ellis. Recorded by Winston Riley at Duke Reid's Treasure Isle Studio, the new album features 4 bonus tracks that did not appear on the original LP.

With instrumental numbers like "Green Mango," "Hot Shot" (a real gem) and "Jungle Skank," Top Secret holds up with its classic instrument sound. Enjoy this treat.

60s SoundtrackSoundtrack to The 60s (Mercury 1999) - The 60s is the soundtrack to the four-hour NBC mini-series that aired during the February sweeps. With 15 songs of protest and challenge (including a new recording of "Chimes of Freedom" by Bob Dylan with Joan Osborne), the album gives you pause to evaluate the 60s sound from a distance of 35 years.

And what do we find? Well, songs like "Do Wa Diddy" by Manfred Mann and "My Boyfriend's Back" by the Angels survive as novelty numbers because Disney has recycled them in recent years. Serious musicians like The Band ("The Wait"), Cream ("Sunshine of Your Love") and Byrds ("Draft Morning") still sound pretty good. And protest songs like "Chicago - We Can Change the World" by Graham Nash (who also penned the liner notes for the album) still carry a message.

Photo from TV showThe standouts? Thus, "Don't Worry Baby" by the Beach Boys still sounds fresh. And Grace Slick's vocals on "Somebody To Love" (by the Jefferson Airplane) still have that magic that spells H-I-T.

The 60s is not a definitive collection, but holds its own.

- Randy Krbechek © 1999

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