For many, Randy Newman reigns as the sardonic voice of Southern California, a Hollywood icon with multitudinous Oscar nominations for songs like "I Love to See You Smile" (Parenthood) and "You've Got a Friend in Me" (Toy Story). Those with longer memories might pair Newman with that vehicular celebration of the left coast, "I Love L.A.," or the politically correct reaction that followed his "Short People" success. That is, until a reprise of his 30-year-old tune, "Louisiana 1927," and its devastating chorus, "They're trying to wash us away," became the unwitting soundtrack to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
And if "Louisiana" reminded the nation of Newman's broader reach, then Sail Away drives the point home. On it, numerous artists (Sonny Landreth, the Duhks, Béla Fleck, and Steve Earle, to name but a few) employ a variety of styles (blues, folk, bluegrass, and alt-country, respectively), drawing the work away from the wry, piano-based observer and reconstructing it with banjos and mandolins and slide guitars.