Various Artists

Sail Away: The Songs of Randy Newman

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Hailed by critics, loved and revered by songwriters and musicians, Randy Newman still polarizes the public. Maybe it's the voice, maybe it's the heavy irony (maybe it's "Short People"), but folks seem to either love him or hate him. Perhaps that's why Sugar Hill Records felt the need to dip into its pool of top-notch roots artists and put together Sail Away: The Songs of Randy Newman -- a compilation of not-so-goat-eyed interpretations of Newman's work. For those out there whose main beef with Newman is his voice, this collection just might provide enough talk-singing relief to get to the heart of what really makes the man such an important American songwriter -- his lyrics, and the simultaneously comfortable and daring nature of his compositions. Tim O'Brien's thoughtful take on "Sail Away," the Del McCoury Band's utterly correct version of "Birmingham," and Steve Earle's fantastic reading of the wryly empowering "Rednecks" are highlights.

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