- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Following the release of “Bad Love” in 1999, Randy Newman took a break from his solo career to focus on numerous film projects. The decision was caused not by a lack of material, the veteran songwriter says, but a lack of self-discipline.

“When you’re working on movie soundtracks,” Mr. Newman explains, “you simply have to do it. There’s a deadline. You work every day. When you’re writing music for yourself, you think, ‘Oh, it’s hard. I’d rather watch television or read.’ I’ve just never had any self-discipline about anything.”

Mr. Newman blazed his own trail during the 1970s by crafting music that had more in common with the sound of Ray Charles than the era’s many folk musicians. With crafty humor and melodic finesse, he expanded his audience during the following decades while making forays into cinema. By the 1990s, film orchestration had become a major component of Mr. Newman’s work.

“Toy Story,” “A Bug’s Life,” “Pleasantville,” “Meet the Parents,” “Seabiscuit” and “Cars” are among the 20 films Mr. Newman scored in the past two decades. The nephew of several noted Hollywood composers - Alfred, Lionel and Emil Newman - Mr. Newman shows a flair for crafting unique, winsome orchestrations for the silver screen. Nevertheless, when his solo career came calling last year, Mr. Newman happily rose to the occasion.

“Harps and Angels” is Mr. Newman’s first album of original material in nearly a decade. Filled with lively piano and New Orleans shuffle, it’s a return-to-form effort for the 64-year-old songwriter, who says the material is chiefly autobiographical.

“These songs are closer to being about some version of myself than they have been before,” he explains. “With [1988’s] ‘Land of Dreams,’ I wanted to see if I couldwrite autobiographical songs, and the album proved to me that I could do it. So with the last two records - ‘Bad Love’ and this one - I’m counting on myself as the main character to be more direct.”

Of course, Mr. Newman’s biographical songwriting still finds room for comedy and political commentary. “A Few Words in Defense of Our Country” skewers the Bush administration while at the same time reminding us that in the long perspective of history, our leaders “are hardly the worst this poor world has seen.” “Korean Parents” tackles racial stereotypes with the same controversial wit as 1974’s “Rednecks.”

This evening, Mr. Newman will perform solo renditions of his new material at the Strathmore Music Center in Bethesda. His current tour extends into November, but don’t expect such a busy schedule to delay the production of any future albums.

“There’s no excuse for me to take the time I did to make this record,” Mr. Newman says with a laugh. “I promise to do another one within three years. Call and remind me if I don’t.”

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