John Powell is best known for his exuberant collaborations with Harry Gregson-Williams on top rate animated features such as Shrek and Chicken Run, but in a complete change of pace, I am Sam brings out a much more lyrical side. I often bemoan the state of scoring for intimate, dramatic films such as this; composers either ramble tunelessly or get far too quirky for their own good, but here Powell has fashioned a score that while not strong on immediate melodic content is still thoroughly enjoyable.
The central focus of the music is undoubtedly Heitor Pereira's acoustic guitar playing, whose contributions to Hans Zimmer's otherwise redundant Mission:Impossible 2 were the definite highlight. Surrounding the guitar is a string orchestra and an assembly of synths and samples, now I know the latter doesn't sound promising, but this is more with the subtlety and invention of Thomas Newman than a bank of synthesisers drowning out everything in earshot. The actual music itself has influences from many styles, some suggest Paul Simon of all people, but then a few is a little flamenco, while the a bits of solo 'cello are played with oriental slurring between notes. That kind of eclectic mixture shouldn't really work and yet the disparate parts never sound out place next to one another.
There aren't many times when John Powell is likely to be higher in my estimation compared to John Williams, but compared to the similar Stepmom, Powell has fashioned a considerably more effective work. It has emotion that is generally free of overt sentiment, he keeps the orchestration warm, but not avoids the density of orchestration that Williams used. For a score with what is a somewhat limited orchestral palette, the mixture of styles, tempo and good use of available resources, the results are quite wonderful, highly recommended.