He's no angel
Harps & Angels (Nonesuch)
ESSENTIAL "A Few Words in Defense of Our Country"
Sure, Randy Newman is an Oscar-winning multimillionaire whose creative output has slowed to the point he's released just three regular albums in the past two decades. But 40 years after his debut, the curly-haired songwriter continues to play to his strength: three-minute social commentaries that might sound bitter if they weren't so funny. "Harps & Angels" opens with the title track, a chatty talking blues set over a stride piano, and closes with "Feels Like Home," a redo of the delicate ballad he let Bonnie Raitt sing on 1995's "Faust." But the centerpiece of the record comes midway through. By casting "A Few Words in Defense of Our Country" as a country song, Newman plays off the pseudo patriotism that has soaked up so much of that genre. He is unsparing, attacking our leaders, the Supreme Court, and comparing the vice president to a horse. He follows with "A Piece of the Pie," a song with jagged instrumentations and a kind of Greek chorus, and more attacks, these on Jackson Browne, Bono, John Mellencamp, and his favorite target, an aging composer named Randy Newman. [Geoff Edgers]