RANDY NEWMAN – The Randy Newman Songbook (Nonesuch): Four-LP, limited edition release of Nonesuch’s Newman songbook series, of which volumes 1 and 2 were released in 2003 and 2011. This collection includes the newly-released Vol. 3 (available on its own digitally and on CD) and a handful of other tracks. Each volume consists of re-recordings of songs throughout Newman’s career, just him and his piano. It makes sense in theory. This is less Nonesuch supplying consumers with Product as it is Significance; i.e., a definitive statement solidifying Newman’s placement in the American songwriter canon. Now, I can’t claim to have listened so carefully as to have sussed out whether some versions of minor-Newman songs are superior to the originals, but I do know that I’ve listened to the first two volumes enough (and the new third volume several times over the last few days) to understand that a lot of the great originals are obviously better than the re-recordings. I mean, the monotony of the man and his piano takes out the fun and zip of something like “Short People,” and in cases like “Sail Away,” which was already largely just Newman and his piano, there’s nothing new to discover, so how does taking out the bite of those tunes and turning them into slightly more morose, certainly more somber renditions do Newman’s legacy any favors? It’s an idea executed in good faith, and a virtue of the package is that it’s not a cynical, extended best-of comp, instead offering fans some more-than-competent material, but I’d personally only be happy to receive the thing as a gift. To put down eighty of my own hard-earned bucks for it? Nah.
JACK WHITE – Jack White Acoustic Recordings 1998-2016 (Columbia): Listening through this double-disc collection made me want to put on my White Stripes and Raconteurs CDs, but it didn’t make me want to buy it, and that’s because I already own the stuff. Okay, sure, when the songs here are put together side-by-side again and again it does foster a deeper appreciation for the acoustic stuff than when they’re sandwiched between electric killers on the studio albums—but seriously, is there any reason making my own playlist on iTunes (with a few alterations) is inferior to owning this comp? Especially when very few of these are alternate takes, re-recordings, live performances, little-known B-sides, bonus tracks, or unreleased songs? And that the alternate mixes are sometimes almost indistinguishable from the originals for those of us who aren’t White scholars? And sorry, you include borderline non-acoustic ‘acoustic mix’ stuff like “Carolina Drama” but not “Little Ghost”? Fuck off.
Jack White – Lazaretto (Third Man ’14): Choice Cut: “Three Women”
Jack White – Blunderbuss (Third Man/XL Recordings ’12): A MINUS
The Go – Whatcha Doin’ (Sub Pop ’99): A MINUS