Randy Newman, Singing On 'Easy Street'

Rock critic Ken Tucker reviews Harps and Angels, Randy Newman's first album in nine years.

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Randy Newman Plays With 'Harps and Angels'

Randy Newman performed at the Largo in Los Angeles on July 23.

Randy Newman performed at the Largo in Los Angeles on July 23. Pamela Springsteen hide caption

itoggle caption Pamela Springsteen

The program I host now — Day to Day — goes out at 9 in the morning from Los Angeles. I normally get up several hours earlier to do interviews and prepare. My social life at night has shrunk to zero. Then I get this email: How about an evening with Randy Newman? NPR Music is recording a performance at a small theater in my city, and they ask if I can be there to introduce him and thank him on behalf of NPR?

Well... okay. (My actual e-response: "YESYESYESYES.")

We get there in time for a quick meal at an Asian cafe across the street. Holy moly, there's Randy Newman at a long table with his band, like a casual group of friends about to drop by a performance, not give one. They eat light fare and leave 20 minutes before curtain. Backstage in the dressing-room area, he's changing from a cotton T-shirt to a silk Hawaiian. The chit-chat, too, is California casual.

Then the stage manager gives the signal, and I go out to say hello to a crowd of 200 or so people who are either Randy Newman fanatics or know him well enough to get invited to this. I take a seat in the theater and settle back. I'd read the lyric sheet in preparation for this moment. I couldn't see how any of it would work — the language on the page barely made sense. But these aren't words to read. This is music; this is Randy Newman, sometimes my favorite songwriter of my lifetime. And this is him telling stories about his family between the songs, laughing with the band, easy, warm, intimate. Listen and enjoy.

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