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07/10/11

Roseanna Vitro
The Music of Randy Newman
Motema

Apart from a handful of Disney-themed projects and several covers of “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today,” Randy Newman has, compared to the majority of his songwriting contemporaries, fared rather poorly on the jazz front. This thoughtful 10-tune plunge into the Newman songbook from Roseanna Vitro, one of the most compelling vocal stylists around, helps redress the imbalance. Though two-time Oscar winner Newman is, of late, best known for his film work, Vitro focuses primarily on compositions that first appeared on his own albums, extending from 1970’s 12 Songs to 2008’s Harps & Angels.

Most familiar are “Sail Away,” Newman’s richly realized tale of the illusions fed to African immigrants by slave traders, and “Mama Told Me Not to Come,” made famous by Three Dog Night but here interpreted with steely censure rather than teenage trepidation. The gritty “Baltimore” is effectively shaped of equal parts despair and hope, and “In Germany Before the War” comes gorgeously wrapped in wistful fog. Most powerful, though, is her exploration of the heartbreakingly desolate “Losing You.”

For the two film-based selections Vitro does include, she makes one obvious choice, the charming “If I Didn’t Have You,” Newman’s first Oscar winner from Monsters, Inc. Her other pick is the less-familiar “I Will Go Sailing No More” from Toy Story, which, with its evocation of safe harbors and home comforts, nicely bookends the disingenuous “Sail Away.”

Originally published in July/August 2011
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