Randy Newman was the nephew of film composers Alfred, Emil, and Lionel Newman, which would suggest at least some familiarity with the field, even though he had only scored one minor movie (Cold Turkey). And in his songs, heard on his series of solo albums, he displayed far more knowledge of popular music styles of the early 20th century than any of his singer/songwriter peers. Listening to his records, you could always tell that he knew his way around Scott Joplin's rags. Who better, therefore, than Newman to make his debut as a big-budget film composer by scoring an adaptation of E.L. Doctorow's novel Ragtime? So must movie producer Dino DeLaurentiis have reasoned in giving Newman the assignment. And the result worked out quite well. Newman naturally re-created much of the cakewalking Tin Pan Alley style of the turn-of-the-century era depicted in the film, but he actually had a more challenging assignment than might have appeared, since the story moves from one social stratum to another and ranges in tone from the comic to the melodramatic to the tragic. Especially impressive is the three-part "Dénouement," which brings the plot strands together. On this soundtrack album, billed as "music from the motion picture plus additional music," one gets to hear several vocal numbers in addition to the instrumental cues. A period song, "I Could Love a Million Girls," sung by Donald O'Connor, gives a sense of frivolity; "One More Hour," sung by Jennifer Warnes and, like the score, nominated for an Oscar, has a drawing-room formality; and Newman himself is heard singing "Change Your Way" (which was not in the film), the sort of song that would be at home on any of his solo albums. The 2002 reissue adds Newman's demo of the "Ragtime Theme."
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann