Randy Newman: Harps and Angels

Since I can’t work my way around the “Treat Your Ears Kindly Too” section, album and concert reviews will be posted here as well. First off, I have a review of Randy Newman’s latest LP, Harps and Angels. If I persuade you into checking it out, I recommend first that you go to a local independent music store. If you’re living anywhere that doesn’t have a music store, and I know, that’s nearly everywhere outside of Lincoln and Omaha in Nebraska, save the money and get it digitally off iTunes. With this CD, you get the digital artwork, which is as close to getting the real thing as you can get.

You may want to listen closely to what Randy Newman has to say. For nearly a decade now, he’s been out of the public eye hunched over film scores, but chances are he’s been in the public ear more than anyone else in the music business. Starting with Toy Story 2 in 1999, he had a string of seven scores written for very prominent movies, four of which were box-office number ones. Getting back into the swing of things and recording his first studio album since 1999’s Bad Love didn’t seem to be any chore, though. His level of songwriting on Harps and Angels, released on August 5, 2008, is on par and at some points better than the best out there today, and his immersion in the movie business, where vivid imagery reigns supreme, has refined the landscapes his songs paint.

But he still has his shortfalls. He still sounds like he just had a shot of Novocain and is absolutely incensed by the absurdness of the dentist appointment he’s at. He’s not afraid to sound out brutally honest and vitriolic attacks, but this is nothing new either.  Back when he was a budding songwriter in the 1970s, his knack for humorously sardonic analyses of the government and other easy targets set him apart from the Jackson Browne’s of the day. On this album, he takes great pleasure in satirically ripping apart sensitive and introspective types such as Browne, John Cougar Mellencamp, and Bono in “A Piece of the Pie.” In fact, no one is spared in this no-holds-barred diatribe pointed at all of America and the way we complain about the terrible situation we find ourselves in: being able to buy only one Frappaccino a day. And it comes at just the right time, when we’re being barraged by McCain and Obama ads from all around.

You may want to listen closely to what Mr. Newman has to say because he is now 64 years of age and knows what he is talking about. Pretty boys like Jackson, John and Bono can’t fight back, and thank God they can’t, and as he points out in the title track, “Harps and Angels,” even God can’t escape being exposed. The speaker in the song tells a tale of how he fell flat on his face out of the blue and saw his life flash before him, only to find out that a “clerical error” was made.

Newman also throws in a couple truly sentimental numbers with “Losing You” and “Feels Like Home.” Strong songs by themselves, they pale in comparison to the sharp tongue of “A Few Words in Defense of Our Country” and “Korean Parents.” I’d kill to have his point of view. From the gloomy and dismal subjects of our declining empire of the United States, he does the unimaginable and pulls laughs out in “A Few Words in Defense of Our Country.” In his most direct stanza of the record, Newman gets on the backs of our young members of the Supreme Court saying,
You know it kind of pisses me off
That this Supreme Court is going to outlive me
A couple of young Italians fellas and a brother on the Court now, too
But I defy you, anywhere in the world,
To find me two Italians as tight-assed as the two Italians we got
And as for the brother, well
Pluto’s not a planet anymore either

Listening closely may not be all that we should do to honor this album. My suggestion is proclaiming Randy Newman as songwriter laureate of our country. His job will be to cut through the glossy politics and give us a point of view of truth and a great, big belly laugh.

Published in: on August 28, 2008 at 3:22 am  Leave a Comment  

Landed a Spot!

Earlier this morning, when it was raining cats, dogs, parrots, gooses, and the Henry Doorly Zoo, and while I was still getting adjusted to the blinding light of my computer screen, I opened an e-mail with the subject “Daily Nebraskan – Welcome Aboard”. I then started having freak convulsions and replied to the message with a blank page.

Perhaps there are connotations that arise from sending your future boss back a reply that says nothing. I’m thinking that it symbolizes that either, 1. I am a blank slate on which the DN will make a distinctive impression or, 2. I am making an equivocal statement and I would like to only be known as Mr. X, the mysterious enigma who, along with writing great articles, may be able to withstand twenty-four hours in a chest freezer.

As number two is only attainable by David Blaine, I will have to settle with number one. But I am nonetheless ecstatic about this new job of mine. From now on I’ll be enduring low wages, a killer of a work schedule, and tireless research. Honestly, I can’t be more happy.

Published in: on August 27, 2008 at 2:26 pm  Leave a Comment  

So Quiet That You Don’t Want To Breathe

I don’t want to cause any purple faces, but I think that’s a good way to describe the music I’ve been making. If you want to sample it yourself, go on over to http://www.myspace.com/mikejtodd. I’d also say that you may want to click that lyrics link on the right side to get the full effect. Sure, I’m plugging myself, but I really hope you check it out, no matter what kind of humility I’m stepping on right now.

Published in: on August 24, 2008 at 6:32 pm  Leave a Comment  

Gunk Patrol

Writing that title made me think of the stellar photo the Alliance Times-Herald had in today’s paper. No joke, it was of a police officer tasering the volunteer fire department chief, and boy, does the cop have a determined look on his face! Of course, it was just for a demonstration at some meeting, but I had to laugh at that one.

*Here is where I would write something potentially career-hindering, how our local newspaper is less than… see I just about did it there in the sentence that’s supposed to be the curtain that covered my “true thoughts” sentence. I need a lesson in keeping my keys silent.*

Anyway, another kind of patrol has started doing sweeps of the house in the past couple weeks. We’re on the move to a new house, and I’m moving into my dorm tomorrow in Lincoln. So what once was an abode full to the brim of this and that, is almost an echo chamber now, naked and plain.

While digging through things that I never knew I had, I came upon a box of school stuff from kindergarten and 1st grade. I was overjoyed reading through the stories I wrote back then about purple chicken-poxed guys who lived in clams and badminton playing butterflies. The sentimental value on these keepsakes is through the roof, which, by the way I hope and pray to God doesn’t need replaced, because this house needs to be sold.

Among other pictures of dinosaurs and three-pointed paper hats I found a couple newspaper clippings that were my favorite finds. It could have either been a slow news day or simply a couple of off-the-charts cute kids. Considering the illustrious paper we have here, it was most likely that my friends, J.R., Cory, and I were the types who drew crowds from all around, in utter disbelief of our ingenuity.

Take a look for yourself.

Sorry, but you’ll have to tip your head for this one.

Published in: on August 22, 2008 at 5:55 am  Comments (1)  

Writing Poetry

If you can call it that. This may come off as misogynistic or vulgar, but I’m thinking that no one will be up in arms about this lil’ piece. It’s about a superficial middle-aged guy who can’t get a girlfriend. If you are offended, you know where to write.

For Love of the Game

I’ll say that true love plays like a pop-fly in the sky
And you’ve always got your mitt in the spot where the sun’s in your eyes
So it’s hard to clip or snag that slim chance on Earth to survive
In a world full of girls who’ll give you a whirl
Then decide, “Well, you see, you’re just not my type”

I’m telling you:
There’s a price you pay to make it safe
Back to home with a wife at your old age
It’s called settling down and grinding it out
And being okay with the double A’s

Some reckless guys might dare to try a double-header just for fun
Sure there’s a thrill in keeping it chill when you can’t get your fill on just one
With both, you’ll go first, second, third base and burst for the plate being sparkled by that sun
Then it’ll slip out your mouth, “Amanda, my love, come South”
And Nicole will let you know who has won

There’s a price you pay to make it safe
Back to home with a wife at your old age
It’s called settling down and grinding it out
And being okay with the double A’s

Mr. 47 year-old single man in Atlanta
If you’re finding that every single one just can’t stand ya
You might want to tell them off the bat you’re too shallow
And not as brave as the baseball squad you shadow

Your love is not blind and will not need corrective lenses
It’s as clear as your team’s loss on Monday with the Twins
So if you don’t want to be deflated again like your ‘67 Chevy’s tires
Why don’t you just retire?

Published in: on August 7, 2008 at 7:54 am  Leave a Comment  

Really Simple

I’ve never been able to stop myself from grabbing the ankle of an unassuming trombone player on that veritable bandwagon and clambering in when it comes to technology. When I see that somebody has a new, shiny gadget or is extoling a useful website, I have to at least give everything a shot. I can’t say where I got it, but this love for all things digital seems to have been around for… forever.

So when I learned about RSS feeds, I have to admit that I was entranced. Having news, personal blogs, and other odds and ends instantly materialize in a standalone program was simply too good to be true. Or so I thought. NetNewsWire is a reality, and although the currently 3,601 unread posts may be misleading, I spend way too much time using it.

If you’re curious and aren’t intimidated by technology, download either NetNewsWire for Macs or FeedDemon for Windows-based computers. You’ll be happy, too, and maybe just a little bit obsessed like me.

Published in: on August 4, 2008 at 4:54 am  Leave a Comment  

Summer’s Coming to a Close

To squeeze all the enjoyment out of what’s left of this freedom-giving, indolence-unlocking, and profusely-sweating season, put this on whenever you need some get up and go have a picnic or go biking.

The Hold Steady–Constructive Summer

Published in: on August 1, 2008 at 1:00 am  Leave a Comment