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  Listen Up! 9/26/03 Listen Up!

Friday, Sept. 26

Randy Newman, “The Randy Newman Songbook Vol. 1,” Nonesuch Records. Apparently, Newman often plays solo concerts, just him, his incredible songs, and a piano. I wouldn’t know, because to my knowledge, he’s never played St. Louis since I started caring about him, which is something like 27 years ago. Of course, he is playing here in a few weeks, at the Sheldon, but I have prior commitments that night, so I still won’t see him. Anyway, enough about me. This album would seem to be a typical Newman solo concert, except it’s recorded in a studio. All the songs save two or three date back to the early 70s, when he was at his most acerbic, and when his genius reigned supreme. (Technically, there are a couple of instrumental passages from his film work, too, but these never last very long.) Fans should find these solo arrangements interesting, if not necessarily as good as the originals. Newman has never been a spectacular singer, but I’ve always found his voice warm and comforting, even when he’s inhabited the lives of horrible, horrible people. I’m not sure how people who aren’t fans will take this. I would hope they would recognize a songwriter of passionate humanist fervor who almost always writes from the opposite point of view, since he’s such a satirist, who also happens to write some of the most gorgeous melodies in the grand pop tradition.

Patti Smith, “Horses,” Arista Records. Still a wonderful and bracing album after 27 years. There’s the garage-driven fury of “Gloria,” the slippery reggae of “Redondo Beach,” the poetic frenzy of “Birdland,” and then lots more of all of it. It’s one of those records everybody really should own.

David Bowie,”Reality,” ISO Records. You know how some records grow on you after you hear them a few times? Usually the first time you hear them, you sort of shrug your shoulders, and say, well that’s not such a bad thing, but I’m not interested, and then you hear it again, and it’s like you’re flirting with somebody you hadn’t realized was all that cute because you were looking in a different direction, and then the next thing you know you’re having incredible, passionate sex while this record is playing? Well, that’s not happening here. This David Bowie record is managing the rare feat of sounding worse and worse each time I hear it. It’s just meandering, tuneless stuff, and the rhythms aren’t making up for it, either. Oh, thank goodness. It just ended as I typed the last sentence. Who should I flirt with next?

--Steve Pick

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