Is there another living musician with more all-American compositions than Randy Newman? His scores range from the thirteen colonies' varied history to the warmth of the South to pure West Coast chic. When the wit and style of Newman's creations lean to a specific direction, the melting pot of North American music still shines through... and his underscore for Seabiscuit is an attractive example.
Much is due to the film's subject matter, a fact-based slice of life adapted from Linda Hillenbrand's "Seabiscuit: An American Legend". During the Great Depression, a ragged racehorse named Seabiscuit tore up from the bottom rung to the highest ranks; the jockey, a businessman, and the trainer felt the rush of major competition; and the country looked to the story as proof that the American Dream can come true. With a tale like this, musical Americana is compulsory.
But if it is impossible for a score to also feel equine, no one told the composer. The music gallops past the sombre reflections of a nation's doldrums, centering more on the long, elegant form of the main themes--not striking, but clearly bred from a noble lineage--and racing cues that push athleticism and triumph with all the force a full symphony orchestra allows. There's a bit of Mexican source music performed by Mariachi Reynas de Los Angeles to add a little spice. The richest delights, though, are in the simplest instrumentation: solo violin (Bruce Dukov), French horn (Jim Thatcher), clarinet (Jim Kanter), flute (Jim Walker), trumpet (Malcolm McNabb), and piano (Randy Newman).
Enhanced features on the disc are a link to the movie's official site, the film trailer, and a small collection of movie stills. As for the packaging, we again have a cardboard album with a plastic tray for the disc, and a flimsy slip for the handsome but sparse booklet that includes a few more pictures plus the usual credits.
Seabiscuit begs comparisons to another Randy Newman score, the classic The Natural, and subsequently invites criticism as an also-ran. It is a contented listen, nonetheless--musically solid, and the emotional strength and dramatic appeal make it one to listen for at Oscar time.
See also Ian Lace's review last month.