CD REVIEW: COLD TURKEY

Title: Cold Turkey
Composer: Randy Newman
Label: Percepto
Suggested Retail Price: $19.95
Grade: B+

When it comes to playing America, few composers can bring on the string-and-brass wheatfield with a feeling that at once salutes the heartland while thumbing its symphonic nose at it. And whether its through scores like The Natural and Pleasantville, or such songs as “I Love LA” and “New Orleans,” Randy Newman has been having it in both ways with style and acclaim to spare. With his satirically melodic bite, you could say that Randy was the first member of the Newman clan to truly reach out to a new, counter-culture generation of pop and film music fans. But if people thought that Randy’s movie career started with 1981’s Ragtime, then they should get a listen to his first score for 1971’s Cold Turkey. It was a smoking satire that showed Newman hit it right off the bat – then somehow took nearly a decade to get another inning. And for the composer’s admirers, it’s a discovery that’s on the league of coming across the first Ark of the scoring Covenant.

Cold Turkey proudly continues Percepto’s tradition of releasing such oddball baby-boomer favorites as Cyril Mockridge’s Miracle On 34th Street to Vic Mizzy’s score to The Ghost And Mr. Chicken. In some ways, Cold Turkey ranks as one of their coolest discoveries at showing an A-list talent starting off at the top of the musical alphabet. And as you listen to how wonderful Cold Turkey is, the biggest question that the composer’s fans might ask is why it took him so darn long to do another score. Even Newman can’t give an easy answer, as Jeff Bond details in his terrific liner notes. Though he’d done episode work for the likes of Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea and Lost In Space, it seemed that Newman was destined to make his mark as a brilliantly acerbic songwriter.
If any film could have lured him into his family’s footsteps, then it’s easy to see how it would have been Cold Turkey, a film chock full of blistering potshots at the tobacco industry and its small town pawns, who decide to ditch the smoking habit for 30 days in hopes of a big payday for their town of Eagle Rock.

Though Newman can be brilliantly snarky at taking down sacred cows, what stops him from being just another liberal a-hole with a musical axe to grind is that he lampoons his subjects with real sympathy. And right from the start with his beautiful piano and vocal rendition of “He Gives Us All His Love,” Newman lets us know that he’s rooting for the underdogs who accept whatever corporate America tells them. Upon listening to his ultra-melodic sound for strings and brass, you might think you’re in Mayberry RFD (or Pleasantville for that matter). It’s a poetic apple pie and picket fence sound that mostly plays it straight through the smoke-addiction shenanigans. Aaron Copland would be proud to call this score home before discovering the dogshit on his shoe. But it’s precisely this kind of melodic earnestness that makes Cold Turkey’s score so hilarious. It’s genuinely sweet as it goes about its targets, with a real, understanding emotion that socks the humor home.

Like most political satires, Nixonian greed was the target of Turkey’s sour eggs. Many pieces here yearn to break out into “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” – and sometimes do. If anything, Cold Turkey also has the most “western” feeling of any Newman score before Maverick came along, a brassy, hoedown you could rope a cow to. Almost half of Cold Turkey is comprised of these kind of band “source” cues, as Newman didn’t score the last third of the film – probably for fear of the Hollywood game that he’d gotten himself into. But Randy shouldn’t have worried, as even this oompa tunes don’t wear out their welcome.

If there’s one score that shows great music runs straight away in the Newman blood, then Cold Turkey is it. Though the likes of Toy Story, Parenthood and Avalon may have been years off for Randy, their lush, Americana presence is immediately heard here in spades. And whether
he’s making fun of this great land, or giving it a 21 gun orchestral salute, Randy Newman shows that perhaps no composer better understood its patriotic, melodic pulse – even he delighted in making its beat screwy.

Get it here.

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