Band: Randy Newman
Album: Good Old Boys
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Randy Newman's clever mind turns toward the American South on "Good Old Boys." It's biting, reverential and great.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Some of the songs have good lyrics, but aren't well executed. "Naked Man," specifically, comes to mind.
Best song: "Mr. President (Have Pity on the Working Man)" is awesome, but "Rednecks" and "Louisiana 1927" are the best songs in the album.
Worst song: "Naked Man" evokes a show tune feeling.
Is it awesome?: Yes.
I've said it before, but it bears mentioning again. Randy Newman is a badass.
"Good Old Boys" builds, in some ways, off the idea put forth in the title track of "Sail Away," as Newman takes on several guises of the American South (hence the title of the record). Contrary to what many would expect (and, as you would imagine from reading the song titles), the record isn't simply condescending towards the South. It often celebrates it without irony (the version of "Every Man a King," for example) and Newman -- in a way that Sufjan Stevens has done in his states albums -- simple paints of a picture of the region.
"Louisiana 1927," a song about a great flood that upended many people's lived, sounds especially prescient today with Hurricane Katrina in our direct rearview. Newman, not surprisingly, played it at one of the Katrina benefit concerts immediately following the disaster.
The album's opening track, "Rednecks," is probably the signature track from album and is more complex than a lot of people think. As Newman drops the N bomb (Something Kelly referenced in the comments section of this post) in character several times, he's assuming the character of a southern, well, redneck. In Newman's way, he paints the character as proud but unlikeable.
However, the latter part of the song is where Newman's brilliance shines. A California guy, he notes that Northern cities -- for all of their pomposity on Civil Rights -- simply segregate African-Americans:
That the North has set the nigger free
Yes he's free to be put in a cage
In Harlem in New York City
And he's free to be put in a cage in the South-Side of Chicago, the West-Side
And he's free to be put in a cage in Hough in Cleveland
And he's free to be put in a cage in East St. Louis
And he's free to be put in a cage in Fillmore in San Francisco
And he's free to be put in a cage in Roxbury in Boston
How great is that? Newman just sprays everyone, cleverly and smartly.
There are few songwriters who can use humor the way Newman does. He's extremely clever. There's value in his songwriting and he can really turn a phrase. "Good Old Boys" is one of the best examples of that.