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Soundtrack review: LBJ (Marc Shaiman – 2017)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: LBJ (Marc Shaiman – 2017)

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“LBJ” is a 2016 American political drama film directed by Rob Reiner and written by Joey Hartstone. After powerful Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson (Woody Harrelson) loses the 1960 Democratic presidential nomination to Senator John F. Kennedy (Jeffrey Donovan), he agrees to be his young rival’s running mate. But once they win the election, despite his extensive legislative experience and shrewd political instincts, Johnson is sidelined in the role of vice president. That all changes on Nov. 22, 1963, when Kennedy is assassinated and Johnson, with his devoted wife Lady Bird (Jennifer Jason Leigh) by his side, is suddenly thrust into the presidency. As the nation mourns, Johnson must contend with longtime adversary Attorney General Bobby Kennedy (Michael Stahl-David) and one-time mentor Georgia Senator Richard Russell (Richard Jenkins) as he seeks to honour JFK’s legacy by championing the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964. Marc Shaiman wrote the score.

It’s been a long time since I last heard a Marc Shaiman score and there’s quite the 90s nostalgia tingle as I anticipate this one. That horn and march like percussion based “Opening” is just perfect; I am immediately inspired and touched by this broad and melodic delight. I hear the military and political element and with just two minutes this extremely gifted composer transports me in the world of “LBJ”. There’s not even a shadow of doubt that only the opening will be like this as the score continues to flow on the same melodic orchestral pathways, quiet and emotional, subdued but extremely meaningful. I missed hearing music like this in a film score; it comes straight from 20-25 years ago when James Newton Howard, John Barry or James Horner used to write the most moving and emotional heroic romantic scores like “Wyatt Earp”, “Dances with wolves” or “Legends of the fall”. I don’t hesitate in mentioning LBJ in the same sentence as those masterpieces because Marc Shaiman nails that unique and nostalgic sound that he helped create.

The orchestral texture of “LBJ” is rarely loud as the composer goes more for emotional depth. When the story gets dark with the assassination the music only needs to take just a couple of more steps as the transition feels real and natural because the score maintains a serious and elegiac tone from start to finish. I am thinking back at the political scores of past years and except Jeff Beals’ work there’s rarely been music as compelling and captivating as what I am hearing here. I just love the way the piano rolls in pieces like “Swearing in” and I just can’t get enough of orchestral melodies, pure and simple.

“LBJ” is a score that comes from another age and one of the best decades of film music: the 90s. In this composition the romantic elements, the heroic ones and the military and political motifs are woven together with strings and piano in a subdued but very emotional and, ultimately, nostalgic sound. Marc Shaiman reminds us why his music was so appreciated and praised for so many years in a score that is most welcomed for me in 2017. Do not miss it.

Cue rating: 94 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 31 / 50

Album excellence:62%

Highlights:
Opening
Motorcade Leaves
Bird, Get Me a Drink
Do You Want This?
Nomination Announcement
Kennedy on the Phone
Thank You Bobby
Through Downtown Dallas
Gazing at the White House
Assassination
Kennedy TV Speech
Air Force One
Ice Cream
Writing the Speech
Time to Go
The Speech
Let’s Get to Work

Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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