Release Date: 07.22.03
Record label: Universal
Genre(s): Movies, Film Scores, Musicals, Etc.
Newman on Americana Cruise Control, But It's All Good
by: matt cibula
I don't know why people get all so geeked up over movie soundtrack albums. Sure, there are some amazing ones out there, but the large majority of them are just not that big a deal to me. I've never really seen the point of listening to the music of a movie without the pictures there in front of me. And no, I haven't seen Seabiscuit, but I shouldn't have to have seen the movie to judge the soundtrack as a musical work. And no, I don't own any other Randy Newman albums—but I think that he was our finest songwriter going for a while in the 1970s, before his movie-scoring career took over and all his stuff started to sound the same.
So take it with a grain of salt when I say that this is a superb album for people who love movie soundtrack albums, or love the movie Seabiscuit, or are obsessive collectors of the music of Randy Newman. The rest of us are probably gonna want to take a pass on this disc.
Sure, we'll be missing out a little. This is Newman in full-fledged Americana mode, as befits a movie set in the 1930s. The elegiac brass-band-in-the-town-gazebo mode of "The Crash" is lovely and hokey and perfectly old-timey; so what if it sounds exactly like Newman's song "Louisiana 1916," especially in the arrangement Aaron Neville used on his Warm Your Heart album? The cautious entrance of the strings on "Frankie" is stirringly classic-Hollywood, and I'm sure is even more stirring in the movie itself. And when Newman goes Copland/Bernstein on us with the march of "Infield Folks" or the tiptoeing "Night Ride," it's not original, but it is cuter than a bug's ear.
And Newman still has some hop on his curveball here. "Tanforan" goes from cowboy vibe to big-city-jazz breakdown in a heartbeat. "La Taquilera" is excellent norteño, performed by the Mariachi Reynas de Los Angeles, and it's exactly 1:11 of Mexican heaven. And the interlocking horn and woodwind lines in "Ready?" set things up for the soaring violins in a way that few other Hollywood composers can do.
But as a listening experience this album, lovely as it is, doesn't work that well for me. Part of it is the fact that it's 20 tracks in 47 minutes, so pieces are over before they begin; part of it is not seeing the visuals that the record was obviously composed for; and part of it is the fact that Newman doesn't really have that many new ideas here. This is territory that he and other composers have mapped out long ago.
But it still sounds great, and at times beautiful and heart-tugging and such. If you fit the three criteria listed above, this might be your huge family-sized tub of popcorn with butter flavoring please and two large Mountain Dews. 19-Aug-2003 8:45 PM