With all due respect to novelist David Foster Wallace, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men would make a good title for a Randy Newman retrospective. For 40 years, Newman has crafted three-minute, piano-based pop songs about such unsavory characters as sweet-talking slave traders ("Sail Away"), trigger-happy patriots ("Political Science"), and good-old-boy politicians ("Kingfish"). He continued this streak last year when he published the lyrics to "A Few Words in Defense of Our Country" as an op-ed piece for the New York Times, ruminating on our nation's leaders and how they stack up to the likes of Stalin and the Caesars. And while Newman's humor and saztire have always been a hallmark of his songwriting, it's easy to ignore the big, human heart that rests inside these hideous men. It's this heart that keeps Newman's character studies vibrant 40 years later, and it's the same heart that makes Newman an engaging, magnanimous performer.
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