by John Tarpley
Here's the thing about Randy Newman: There's nothing left to say about him, yet there's everything to say about him. In the ongoing American musical history, he sits in the highest echelon, an ambitious, daring artist as essential as Cole Porter or Bob Dylan, if only because he had the imagination to split the difference between the two. He's our country's Jonathan Swift, a big-hearted, blunt-mouthed satirist with a keen ear for ragtime melodies and a sharp, often misunderstood pen turned towards rednecks, politicians and, of course, short people. Despite never receiving the commercial accolades due him, Newman's albums — especially the five pieces of wax he pushed off in the '70s — will forever hold a place on any budding songcraft's "must-study" list. Even if he never shook up the charts, his influence can't be ignored.
I shudder to think where music would be today without the heart-rending strings of "Louisiana 1927," the wistful, high yearn of "Dayton, Ohio — 1903" or the teasing drums in "Living Without You." And he's still necessary. As a chronicler of recent history, perhaps he's needed more than ever. Take a shot at the most recent Newman essential, "A Few Words (In Defense of Our Country)," a melancholic, patently dry musical shrug about the Bush-era pickle we found ourselves in and the countries quick to hate us, rife with lyrics like "We don't want your love/Respect at this point is pretty much out of the question/Times like this, we sure could use a friend."
For me, Randy Newman's voice is the intonation of America's best corners and truest back porches, not to mention the voice I, just like so many others, hear when I sit down at a piano. This show marks the icon's first trip back to the state since his first-ever Arkansas appearance in 2007, opening Eureka Springs' May Festival of the Arts.