Monday, 31 July 2017

"Sail Away" by RANDY NEWMAN (May 2002 Rhino/Reprise 'Expanded Edition' CD Reissue - Dan Hersch Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...




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"...Drop The Big One Now!"

While Randy Newman is a musical household name in 2017 - especially with his glorious Oscar-winning Soundtrack work on beloved Pixar films like "Toy Story", "Monsters Inc." and more - back in 1972 when he was onto his 4th solo LP for Reprise Records (3rd studio set) - and despite huge industry wide critical acclaim - he couldn't get arrested by the buying public even if he did insult short people or rail against the tyranny of religious zealots.

Originally released in May 1972 - the American vinyl LP of Reprise MS 2064 was not only ignored but even derided in some sectors - something Newman alludes to and smirks at in the caustic liner notes that accompany this stunning 2002 Rhino CD reissue. 

Because of course history tells us a different story to the chart indifference he suffered then - "Sail Away" is a great album - a masterpiece really - and an early jewel in a very large and long career arc. He is also helped by an impressive array of session players - Ry Cooder, Chris Etheridge of The Flying Burrito Brothers, Jimmy Bond, Wilton Felder of The Crusaders and Milt Holland to name but a few (Randy plays piano and sings). It's lonely at the top indeed. Here are the memos from Simon Smith and his Amazing Dancing Bear...

UK released May 2002 - "Sail Away" by RANDY NEWMAN on Rhino/Reprise 8122-78244-2 (Barcode 081227824426) is an 'Expanded Edition' CD Remaster of the 12-Track 1972 LP with Five Previously Unreleased Bonus Tracks and plays out as follows (41:51 minutes):

1. Sail Away [Side 1]
2. Lonely At The Top
3. He Gives Us All His Love
4. Last Night I Had A Dream
5. Simon Smith And The Amazing Dancing Bear
6. Old Man
7. Political Science [Side 2]
8. Burn On
9. Memo To My Son
10. Dayton, Ohio - 1903
11. You Can Leave Your Hat On
12. God's Song (That's Why I Love Mankind)
Tracks 1 to 12 are his 4th album "Sail Away" (3rd studio set) - released May 1972 in the USA on Reprise MS 2064 and July 1972 in the UK on Reprise K 44185.

BONUS TRACKS (Previously Unreleased):
13. Let It Shine
14. Maybe I'm Doing It Wrong (Studio Version)
15. Dayton, Ohio - 1903 (Early Version)
16. You Can Leave Your Hat On (Demo)
17. Sail Away (Early Version)

The 20-page booklet is a pleasingly in-depth affair with a Page 3 introduction from the great songsmith himself and a further essay/assessment pleasantly called "Of Freaks, Geeks, And God" by Editor of the Rolling Stone – DAVID WILD. There is even some personalized notes on the five Previously Unreleased outtakes and how pleased Randy is with the sound of the new Remaster carried out by long-time Rhino Records Audio Engineer associate - DAN HERSCH. This is a gorgeous sounding CD reissue - warm and full - as this quietly subdued album has always cried out for.

"...In America you get food to eat...Won't have to run through the jungle and scuff up your feet...You'll just sing about Jesus and drink wine all day..." You can't really imagine (even now) the impact those opening lyrics to "Sail Away". Firstly very few artists would have risked them. Newman isn't casually slagging off America or taking a cheap shot - but he is highlighting hypocrisies and attacking homegrown racists and their simplistic crap all in the same song. The fact that he does all this inside a haunting melody (orchestration conducted by Louis Kauffman) is all the more remarkable. Newman then digs at his own supposed Rock Star lifestyle in "Lonely At The Top" - the applause - the money – the after parties. The song was used as a title to a CD Best Of for Warner Brothers in 1987 remastered by Lee Herschberg – a disc I bought back in early days of reissue.

An uncaring God and our blind allegiance to pie-in-the-sky indoctrination crops up in the sly and disturbing "He Gives Us All His Love". The distinctive rattle of Ry Cooder's slide guitar strings comes slinking in on "Last Night I Had A Dream" – a song I only half like actually. Speaking of which - his Alan Price hit "Simon Smith And The Amazing Dancing Bear" dates back to the Sixties and put RN on the songwriting map. But again - I've always admired the song more than I actually liked it. "Old Man" is one of the saddest melodies on the album - a tearful farewell by a son to his father - a Dad he clearly dislikes and loves in equal measure.

Side 2 gives us the masterful "Political Science" - a song with lyrics that inspire awe and giggles even now – a full 45 years after they were released. The protagonist singer tells of American Generals and Politicians weary of trying to be nice to the world – why bother man - they hate all Americans anyhow. So to Hell with them all and let's drop the big one now (not on Australia though - don't want to hurt no Kangaroo - besides they've got surfing and good weather too). "Burn On" is one of the album's secret nuggets - a river in Cleveland suddenly containing magical qualities as a red moon of fire rises in the distance. Understated observation number 424 comes in the shape of "Memo To My Son" - as witty and as wise a love letter from a father to a son as you'll ever hear. Like most young Dads - he's struggling with all the joys and terrors a child brings - but there's a simple love in there that's so touching. In the liner notes Newman's fairly dismissive of "Dayton, Ohio - 1903" but I actually think it's beautiful - a mournful 'missus and me' ballad. The ever so slightly perverse "You Can Leave Your Hat On" tickled many people's fancy (Tom Jones even covered it for "The Full Monty" film) - and it's easy to work out why as it plays - the song is witty, acidic and lusty. Buddhists and Hindus join Catholics and Jews on Satellite TV for the seriously harsh "God's Song (That's Why I Love Mankind)" – a nonchalant even disinterested Almighty poo-pooing his creation Mankind as they beg for mercy from plagues and suffering.

You can't help thinking that the wonderful outtake "Let It Shine" was left off the album precisely because it is so upbeat and uplifting - not in keeping with the album's overall moody demeanour. But it's a treat to hear it and "Maybe I'm Doing It Wrong" - fully formed songs that actually deserve the moniker 'Bonus'. As I already liked "Dayton, Ohio - 1903" - a pretty 'early version' of it is alright by me. And the early version of the title song is radically different and fascinating for it...

"...I hope people like them this time..." - Randy Newman remarks in the new liner notes (the next LP "Good Ole Boys" from 1974 was also reissued in this CD series) - maybe a little mellowed by the years and distance. I'd agree.

I know RN is not everyone's cup of Darjeeling - but his songmanship and affecting melodies/lyrics warrant your attention – yes even deserve it. And 1972's forgotten and overlooked "Sail Away" album is the perfect starting point...

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