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Album running time

1: Main Title (1:28)
2: Newsreel (1:31)
3: I Could Love a Million Girls Donald O'Connor (2:01)
4: Train Ride (1:52)
5: Tateh's Picture Book (1:40)
6: Lower East Side (1:09)
7: Delmonico Polka (1:03)
8: Coalhouse and Sarah (1:35)
9: Waltz for Evelyn (1:06)
10: One More Hour Jennifer Warnes (2:47)
11: Sarah's Responsibility (:54)
12: Change Your Way Randy Newman (2:01)
13: Clef Club No 1 (1:42)
14: Atlantic City (2:14)
15: Clef Club No 2 (1:21)
16: Sarah's Funeral (1:13)
17: Dénouement (5:43)
18: Ragtime (2:53)
19: Main Theme (demo) (2:38)

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Artwork copyright (c) 2002 Electra Entertainment and Rhino Entertainment Company; review copyright (c) 2002 James Southall

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Classic score on CD at long last

As Randy Newman's career as a singer/songwriter has slowed down, so his career as a film composer has sped up. Ragtime came during the effective transition between his twin careers - during the few years that followed, he went from having a couple of years between his solo albums to doing a couple a decade (at best); and from doing a couple of scores a decade to doing one or two a year. But "twin careers" is a slightly misleading term to use: the rich Americana with which each of his scores is blessed is very much twinned to that in his best songs; listen to the orchestral arrangements on the songs on his best couple of albums, "Sail Away" and "Good Old Boys", and they could easily be from one of his scores.

While the second half of the 1990s (and beyond) has seen him find a whole new array of followers (along with Oscar glory and the kind of financial reward that someone of his fully-warranted critical reputation so truly deserves) through his music for Disney and Pixar, scores which have formed a key part of the success of the respective films, his most rewarding soundtrack albums are to be found elsewhere. His best three scores of the 1990s, Avalon, Awakenings and Pleasantville, are three of the top ten scores from that decade. And Ragtime is one of the top ten scores of the previous decade.

The movie was, incredibly, in development and production for six years, and the only person present through the whole lot aside from producer Dino de Laurentiis was Newman, such was the importance that music would play in the movie. Both Robert Altman and his eventual replacement Milos Forman were fully supportive of the choice, and it's not difficult to see why. Newman's style has always had an air of the early part of the twentieth century about it, reflecting no doubt his own interest in that part of American history.

The main theme is outstanding, evoking the period perfectly without necessarily being part of it (the most ironic thing about the score is that there isn't much Scott Joplin-style ragtime music - though there is some) and melting the heart at the same time. Source music (including Freeman and Woolfe's "I Could Love a Million Girls" with lyrics that my suspicious mind imagines have been appended somewhat by Newman) makes up about a third of the running time of the album; Newman contributes the beautiful "Waltz for Evelyn" and a pair of "Clef Club" cues which are both tremendously catchy. There's also more dramatic underscore, in "Sarah's Responsibility", "Sarah's Funeral" (featuring a gorgeous trumpet solo) and the "Dénouement".

A pair of original songs by the composer add further attraction to the album. "One More Hour" is interpreted magnificently by Jennifer Warnes and is without question one of Newman's finest songs for a film. He also gives us the amusing "Change Your Way" (and performs it), designed for the opening titles but ultimately unused in the film.

Quite why it's taken over twenty years for this score to see the light of day on CD is difficult to understand, but the wait was certainly worth it. I can't see a better score being released this year. Sound quality is crisp and ideally suited to highlight the exquisite orchestrations by Newman and Jack Hayes. Liner notes feature both a frighteningly funny, sardonic introduction by Newman (one of the wittiest men in the world) and a description of the making of the film and Newman's experience on it by Jerry McCulley, which is informative and amusing in equal measure.

Ragtime is a rare gem of a score, representing a perfect marriage of film and composer, and deserved more than the two Oscar nominations it got Newman (little did he suspect he would receive another sixteen before winning one). No film music fan should miss out on this.

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