Randy Newman grew up in the “Big Easy” aka New Orleans, and according to Stewart D’Arrietta who performs the songs of Randy Newman in his new show, A Randy Kind Of Feeling, the prolific songwriter was deeply influenced by the music of the city, especially what’s known as the New Orleans Shuffle.
And, once again, Stewart D’Arrietta has crafted a musical tribute show that not only entertains us but deepens our appreciation for the music of the show’s subject.
As D’Arrietta notes, Randy Newman is not a well-known name in popular culture, even though his songs are everywhere, being covered by others and bringing life to movie soundtracks.
Some of Newman’s songs that are featured in the show include You Can Leave Your Hat On (not originally intended as THE stripper song of all time) made famous through Joe Cocker’s sultry arrangement, I Think It’s Going To Rain Today which Barbara Streisand “owned”, and that earworm of earworms, Mama Told Me Not To Come, which Three Dog Night took to the top of the charts before an older Tom Jones later claimed and intensified.
This is a one man show and as a result, long time D’Arrietta fans have been commenting that they’re appreciating his talent in a new light; the spotlight!
In an unscripted moment, D’Arrietta paused, looked at his piano keyboard, and shared the insight that sometimes those keys are intimidating; just sitting there, waiting for you. But then in he dives and the notes fill the theatre as if being chased into submission by his snarling, authoritative voice.
This show rewards with plenty of hits but also intrigues us with Newman’s lesser-known songs. For example, God’s Song (That’s Why I Love Mankind), is a profound exercise in song writing and philosophy in which important insights are being shared in balance with a deep channel of emotion and pathos. It transfixed D’Arrietta’s audience last night. Interestingly, in one of the YouTube videos of this song, one commenter seemed to share a similar state of amazement: “he’s an amazing lyricist. I’m only 23 so I only remember him as “that guy from toy story”. But god damn this sent a tremble down my spine.”
This is the art of Stewart D’Arrietta. He chooses master songwriters to study and then he presents their work with warmth, curiosity, respect, and newfound relevance. And all of this is powered by his guttural voice that dredges every deep inch of the soul, tapping subterranean powers that mesmerise his audiences. Such was the case last night, in his performance of Guilty, a song performed sublimely by both Bonnie Raitt and Joe Cocker among others. D’Arrietta imbued this simple, heart-rending song of surrender and loss with confessional power and pleading. Yes, god damn this sent a tremble down my spine, too.
With almost every song being a memorable event, there are three remaining standouts worthy of focus. You’ve Got A Friend In Me, the hit song written for the Toy Story movie, showed us just how universally good Newman’s craft is; if you hadn’t known this was for a kids’ movie, this song would have stood alone as a solid number. Sail Away, made famous by Rod Stewart, was set up with extra poignancy as D’Arrietta took us into the context in which it was written. And, perhaps most disarming of all, D’Arrietta’s insertion of the song, Louisiana 1927, written about the catastrophic flooding of the Mississippi, brought home how Newman often captures the human condition in his song in ways that are necessarily enduring and universal.
It would, of course, be remiss not to mention D’Arrietta’s endearing rendition of Newman’s first hit, Short People. At the time of its release in 1977, it was discussed on talk shows for being prejudiced against short people (They got little hands, And little eyes, And they walk around, Tellin’ great big lies, Don’t want no short people ‘Round here), even though Newman argued it was itself a song about prejudice. Either way, this is yet another earworm, with its jaunty piano melody demanding the keyboard shuffles along at a lolling pace as if it was wearing “platform shoes on its nasty little feet”.
A Randy Kind Of Feeling will surprise you, give you pause for thought, intrigue you, entertain you, and leave you smiling. Randy, indeed!