Randy New­man

Chicago Sun-Times - - SUN-TIMES AGENDA - By JEFF ELBEL | FOR THE SUN- TIMES Randy New­man, 8 p. m. Oct. 18- 19, Metro, 1200 W. Ran­dolph. Ad­mis­sion: $ 100+; city­win­ery. com. Jeff Elbel is a lo­cal free­lance writer.

Randy New­man has earned per­pet­ual sta­tus on the short list of Amer­ica’s best pop song­writ­ers. Like the case of fel­low lau­re­ate War­ren Zevon and his darkly comic “Were­wolves of Lon­don,” New­man spent a pe­riod pi­geon­holed by the suc­cess of his satir­i­cal- but- in­sight­ful 1977 No. 2 sin­gle “Short Peo­ple,” and then the half- smirk­ing MTV- era hit “I Love L. A.” The nov­elty of those tracks was even­tu­ally over­shad­owed by the warmth and com­pan­ion­ship of 1996’ s “You’ve Got a Friend in Me,” writ­ten for Dis­ney- Pixar’s “Toy Story” film.

Those rar­i­fied sin­gles may have house­hold- name sta­tus, but the depth and qual­ity of New­man’s five decades of out­put are what have truly made him a trusted re­source for singers, film­mak­ers and mu­sic fans with a pen­chant for a sharp- wit­ted piano man. His mu­sic for films has earned Academy Awards and Grammy Awards dat­ing back to 1985’ s “The Nat­u­ral.” Count­less artists have recorded his songs, in­clud­ing gospel mu­sic hero Mavis Sta­ples. The lo­cal fa­vorite recorded New­man’s heart­break bal­lad “Los­ing You” for 2010’ s Jeff Tweedy- pro­duced al­bum “You Are Not Alone.”

Ne x t we ek , Ne wman ar­rives for two nights at City Win­ery to play ca­reerspan­ning sets and in­tro­duce ma­te­rial from his new al­bum. On­line ticket pur­chasers will re­ceive their choice of a phys­i­cal or dig­i­tal copy of “Dark Mat­ter,” New­man’s first al­bum since 2008’ s “Harps and An­gels.” The new songs are both catchy and chal­leng­ing, demon­strat­ing New­man’s Tin Pan Al­ley craft and will­ing­ness to em­ploy un­con­ven­tional meth­ods. As with his best- known work, sen­ti­men­tal­ity and cyn­i­cism rub shoul­ders.

“The Great De­bate” gath­ers a cast of de­bat­able ex­perts to ar­gue big is­sues from the per­spec­tives of sci­ence and faith. Even­tu­ally, the char­ac­ters in the song turn their crit­i­cal gaze upon New­man him­self. It’s the pop mu­sic equiv­a­lent of Paul Auster’s metafic­tion novel “City of Glass.”

One “Dark Mat­ter” song skew­ers Vladimir Putin. An­other gives voice to blues leg­end Sonny Boy Wil­liamson, jeal­ously pro­tect­ing his le­gacy from the Great Beyond. New­man’s ten­der side emerges on “She Chose Me,” a sat­is­fied and grate­ful op­po­site num­ber to “Los­ing You.” New­man may de­light in play­ing the wise guy or old crank, but it makes his for­ays into warmth heart res­onate all the more.

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