randy newman's first studio album of all-new material in nearly a decade is, by turns, hilarious, poignant and scathingly satirical. even before 'harps and angels' was announced, newman had garnered considerable attention with 'a few words in defense of our country', written, newman alleges - with tongue firmly in cheek - to counter foreign criticism of our current administration. over a cheerful country waltz, he casually references caesar, the spanish inquisition, and the falls of various empires. after performing it at a 2006 carnegie hall concert, the new york times invited newman to publish an abridged version of his lyrics on its op ed page. the response was so enthusiastic that nonesuch released a solo version as a single, featuring the even more politically incorrect, unexpurgated text, and a youtube video. rolling stone named it one of the singles of the year. as with much of the extraordinary material he has created over forty years as a recording artist - songs like 'sail away', 'political science', 'rednecks', 'short people', 'i love l.a.' - newman assumes the voice of an imagined character, often one of questionable reputation, eager to share his opinions. on 'only a girl', he gamely takes on the role of an aging lothario smitten with an all too young goth whose style he doesn't get ('it's some sort of uglification she's into') but whose love he craves. on the title track, he enacts the story of a suddenly repentant musician who has an illuminating conversation with god while lying stricken on a new orleans street. more often, though, newman takes a more direct, button-pushing approach: he advises the newly rich and famous on 'easy street'; offers a unique solution to america's educational crisis on 'korean parents'; and explores the yawning chasm between rich and poor, with a mix of humour and vitriol, on 'a piece of the pie', setting the tune to a madcap orchestral arrangement. there are also moments of great tenderness, especially on 'losing you' and 'feels like home', plus some funny / sad autobiography on 'potholes', about the vagaries of memory. 'harps and angels' often has an easy-going, crescent city feel, with newman on piano fronting a small combo and revealing, as rolling stone put it after the carnegie hall show, 'his serious love and study of the new orleans piano tradition.' the academy award and multiple grammy award-winning composer, who now has an impressive catalogue of film scores to his name, also commands a soundstage full of orchestral players on several brilliantly arranged tracks. the album was co-produced by mitchell froom (crowded house, los lobos), who worked with newman on 1999's 'bad love' and his nonesuch debut, 'the randy newman songbook vol.1', and by lenny waronker, newman's childhood friend, lifelong champion and the producer of his sublime early recordings, including randy newman, '12 songs' and 'sail away'. newman's voice is an especially welcome one this us election year, and one that will resonate well past the inauguration.