With Randy Newman's long-awaited Songbook Vol. 2 (Nonesuch, 2011) and vocalist Roseanna Vitro's album-length salute to his music hitting stores a week apart, it would seem that it's time for revived interest in all things Newman. While the singer/songwriter's release is a solo journey through his own catalog, Vitro's album presents ten of his pieces dressed in newly tailored arrangements from pianist Mark Soskin.
Vitro touches on material from throughout Newman's storied career, but she tends to avoid the music that highlights his wry sense of humor and intentionally smarmy delivery in favor of narratives of all shapes and sizes. Some pieces receive radical facelifts ("Last Night I Had A Dream") that brighten up the music and change the overall impression of the work, while others retain their original essence and are simply tweaked to fit this ensemble and genre of music ("Sail Away").
While loyal fans of Newman's music will likely know every tune on the program, from early-career landmarks ("Sail Away") to latter-day songs of love and loss ("Losing You"), those uninitiated in the cult of his compositions will probably favor the two pieces from Pixar films. Vitro does a fine job on both, with "If I Didn't Have You," Newman's Academy Award-winning number from Monsters, Inc. (2001) re-imagined as bossa-to-samba journey, and "I Will Go Sailing No More," from Toy Story (1995), performed in an appropriately understated manner.
Violinist Sara Caswell is, with the exception of Soskin and Vitro herself, the most important part of this package. She crafts elegant lines ("Sail Away"), sizzles over some Brazilian beats ("If I Didn't Have You"), marries sweeping gestures of sound with sadness and sunshine ("Losing You"), provides understated counterpoint, and helps to define the overall ensemble sound on this record.
Vitro is a storyteller nonpareil and a fine vocalist, with a voice that can comfortably go from tender ("Losing You") to sassy ("Mama Told Me Not To Come Home), and her skills help to elevate the large majority of these pieces to great artistic heights. While the album does contain a misstep or two, like a take on "Baltimore" that lacks the necessary despair and seems to be draped in the wrong aural fabric, this has little do with Vitro's vocals. The Music Of Randy Newman deserves to be heard, not only for its unique arrangements and finely crafted performances, but for the beauty and wonder that Vitro injects into the works of an American icon.
Last Night I Had A Dream; Sail Away; If I Didn't Have You; Everytime It Rains; Baltimore; In Germany Before The War; Mama Told Me Not To Come Home; I WIll Go Sailing No More; Feels Like Home; Losing You.
Roseanna Vitro: vocals; Mark Soskin: piano; Sara Caswell: violin; Dean Johnson: bass; Tim Horner: drums (1-5, 7-10); Jamey Haddad: drums, percussion (1, 2, 5, 6); Steve Cardenas: guitar (1, 2, 5, 6).
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