ALBUM OF THE WEEK
The grand old man of American song is sometimes labelled a ‘songwriter’s songwriter’ but such a sobriquet can be more of a curse than a blessing. Newman’s keenly observed and wryly funny songs should be celebrated by all who enjoy whip-smart song-craft and, at 73, there’s no evidence whatsoever that his powers are fading. Dark Matter is his first album of original material in almost a decade and it’s as razorsharp as you’d expect from a man who regularly takes a surgeon’s scalpel to society. He says he has resisted the temptation to directly tackle the divisive figure in the White House, but these songs crackle with unease for the world in which we find ourselves in 2017. ‘Brothers’ may be based on an imagined conversation between JFK and his equally doomed brother Robert about whether or not to invade Cuba, but it captures much of the tension and anxiety that populates today’s news pages. ‘The Great Debate’ clocks in at eight minutes and would surely have outstayed its welcome in lesser hands. But here, the singer looks at one of the great conversations of our time: that of ‘true believers’ and those who espouse what they reckon is the incontrovertible evidence of science. A big theme, for sure, but Randy Newman is the perfect man for the job.
World on a string: Saint Sister’s Gemma (left), who plays harp, and Morgan are pioneers in the ‘atmosfolk’ genre.