Sail Away: Songs of Randy Newman | CD review

(Sugar Hill/Shock) 4.5 stars

Randy Newman is a great American songwriter, in part because he has never underestimated his audience’s intelligence, although the satirical edge to his lyrics has escaped some people.

Take the title song (covered by Tim O’Brien) of this terrific tribute CD.

`Sail Away’ plays like a classic, melodic ballad until you focus on its lyrics – an American slave ship captain’s sales spiel to unsuspecting Africans.

Then there’s the celebrated, often-misunderstood `Rednecks’, with Steve Earle’s gritty rendition driving home the message about racism both north and south of the Mason Dixon Line.

These 12 songs were written in the 1970s, and most focus on the Deep South, including `Louisiana 1927’, the Katrina-relevant flood saga, delivered by Sonny Landreth and his swampy slide guitar.

Others to pay homage include Allison Moorer (Mrs Earle), Kim Richey, the Del McCoury Band and Bela Fleck.

Newman has since garnered riches and fame in the family business of movie composition, but his golden era was the ’70s.

- Mike Daly

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