CD Review: May Soundtrack Picks

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‘In My Sleep’ One Of The Top Soundtracks To Own For May, 2010

Also Worth Picking Up: Centurion, Cleopatra Jones, Defendor, J*A*G, Lost: Season 5, A Nightmare On Elm Street, Rocky IV, The Secret Of The Kells And Terror In The Aisles

To purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the CD cover

1) CLEOPATRA JONES (3,000 edition)

Price: $24.95

What is it?: The Brothers had John Shaft and Truck Turner, while the Sistah-hood included Foxy Brown and Coffy. Yet no one’s righteous soul funk towered over the Blaxploitation justice league like the jams belonging to the Amazonian, fur-coated agent named Cleopatra Jones. Now leave it to the honkies at Film Score Monthly to follow up their dynamite SHAFT trilogy compilation with this equally loving double-header of JONES’ groovy goodness, a treat that action funk fans are sure to savor.

Why should you buy it?
: First up is J.J. Johnson’s fat brass funk for CLEOPATRA. Already a famed jazzman outside the movie screen, Johnson found his most popular musical ‘fro with the likes of ACROSS 110th STREET and WILLIE DYNAMITE (not to mention hipping up BUCK ROGERS and THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN). But it was in Cleopatra’s company where he really let the action funk out, from Hammond organ and growling fuzz guitars to a main theme that combined SHAFT-like saxes with spy jazz swing (courtesy of MOD SQUAD composer Carl Brandt). In addition to CLEOPATRA’s album, this JONES also offers Johnson’s original score, which gives an ever better taste of the film’s symphonic chops, not to mention Afro lounge sexiness. But when Cleopatra left the ghetto for the CASINO, Dominic Frontiere took over the composing reigns with a bigger, more mainstream score whose biggest musical ethnicity turned out to be the rhythms of Asia, Here a sweeping orchestra abets the Chinese travelogue, with urban funk crossed with a finger-snapping Burt Bacharach worthy theme, as well as music that could best be described as hillbilly meeting Hong Kong. And when it comes to taking on The Man, Frontiere turns Cleopatra into a cross between Shaft and Bruce Lee with the coolest musical martial arts moves this side of ENTER THE DRAGON. It’s the kind of wonderful, whacked-out jive that could only come from the composer who also brought us the eccentric soundtracks to FREEBIE AND THE BEAN and THE STUNT MAN.

Extra Special
: Cleopatra couldn’t look, or sound better under FSM’s auspices, with the history of Tamara Dobson’s iconic action heroine entertainingly chronicled by Scott Bettencourt in this two-CD set’s glossy booklet.


Price: $17.95

What is it?
: It’s one thing to be a great composer like John Williams, Danny Elfman or Alexandre Desplat. But it’s another thing to make these guys sound great. For that, you need an esteemed orchestrator to truly flesh out your melodies for strings, electronics or ethnic instruments. And when those wingmen get a chance to shine on their composing own, the results often combine the best of musical assistance and execution, as Conrad Pope more than proves here with his striking work for this parasomniac thriller.

Why should you buy it?: After such diverse scores as PROJECT: METALBEAST, THE RISING PLACE and PAVILLION OF WOMEN, Pope conjures his most fully realized work within indie confines, realizing the dramatic, dream-like possibilities of murder by sleepwalking from every emotional angle. There’s definitely the Williams and Desplat touch in Pope’s furious symphonic action and gossamer, dream-like melodies, with the dark romantic spirit of Bernard Herrmann inhabiting its building web of suspicion. Yet IN MY SLEEP always has a unique, entrancing voice that’s very much Conrad Pope’s, whose beautifully weird tones make IN MY SLEEP into one of the most stylistically gripping and best-performed scores of the year.

Extra Special: Everything works for SLEEP, even the rocking theme song by Dames Violet, a cool longhair anthem that’d be right at home concluding an ELM STREET sequel.


Price: $12.99

What is it?: Seeing how busy he’s getting as a film composer with the likes of STAR TREK, it’s nice that Michael Giacchno could still keep returning to score the most famous TV castaways since Gilligan and The Skipper. And the creative passion he’s given to J.J. Abrams’ island continued to impress during its next-to-last last dimensional slip

Why should you buy it?
: If you want to turn back the clock on LOST, there’s no better way to do it than by listening to Varese’ fifth season collection of Giacchino’s best bits. Where their past compilations have highlighted more ethnic-action beats, this album is more about ominous, eerie clouds gathering about our intrepid troupe, with percussion that neatly recalls some of Jerry Goldsmith’s scarier scores like ALIEN, as well as effective symphonic adventure that might make you think you’re running about the Enterprise corridors.

Extra Special
: Perhaps best of all is the emotional arcs that these well-chosen cues lead us on, a surprising amount of thematically tender music that reflects the bond of characters like Locke and Jack. The composer’s work puts a human face to the fantastical secrets that will likely continue beyond the series’ closure- a sixth season of Giacchino goodness that’s likely to be cherry picked soon enough by the Dharma masters at Varese.


Price: $19.99

What is it?: Sure Hollywood may have told us to watch out for the Russkie takeover in the 1980’s. But make no mistake that it was MTV that really ruled the world when Rocky stepped into the ring with The Siberian Express for the song-driven ROCKY IV, their fight shot with rock video energy by multi-hyphenate Sylvester Stallone. And with a whole new visual groove, the series’ more traditional composer Bill Conti sat this one out for the guitar and keyboard energy of Vince Di Cola, whose one shot at the saga remains a winner for numerous ROCKY fans.

Why should you buy it?: While two Di Cola cuts “War” and “Training Montage” have been ever-present on the Scotti Brothers CD that featured such hits as “Living in America” and “No Easy Way Out,” the film’s 25th anniversary finally marks the long-awaited release of Di Cola’s title-deserving underscore. The gloriously patriotic 80’s rock energy and TERMINATOR-like Commie villainy gives this ROCKY a distinctive sound in the series. Now its full presentation reveals further coolness as well, from a tender piano and string theme for Rocky and Adrian to a jazzy sparring match with Apollo and the bloops and bleeps that foreshadowed Di Cola’s more serious robotic score for the TRANSFORMERS movie. The composer was also sure to use Conti’s legendary “Gonna Fly Now” theme, which vigorously joins with “Hearts on Fire” for Rocky’s run ”Up the Mountain.”

Extra Special
: The film version of “War,” Di Cola’s take on the ROCKY theme, as well as liner notes that feature a fresh interview with the composer, who’s waiting in the wings for another scoring go-around, one that can’t come soon enough given IV’s continued knockout punch.


Price: $15.95

What is it?: What better way for a studio to cash in at the peak of the 1980’s horror boom then to cut together the most shocking bits from the likes of THE EXORCIST, VIDEODROME and TEXAS CHAINSAW, then intersperse them with popular genre stars Donald Pleasance and Nancy Allen reacting in wide-eyed terror along with a movie theater “audience.”

Why should you buy it?
: Some composers would rather face Jason than being asked to rescore scenes whose classic melodies were as ingrained in fans’ heads as an axe. Leave that formidable task to trailer music master John Beal, who’d already done his own impressive work in the genre with THE FUNHOUSE and KILLER PARTY. While Beal’ score for TERROR might not have wipe anyone’s memories of Bernard Herrmann or John Carpenter, it still screams with zany fun, especially when employing the era’s inimitable keyboards, disco and lite jazz. But this cheese gets classily balanced out with the dark and stormy night playing by a London orchestra. And I won’t even go there with the big song finale “They’re Not Very Nice.”

Extra Special
: While there’s certainly original scoring going on here (most effectively with Beal’s talent for creepy carnival music), horror score fans will also have a fun time playing their version of “Where’s Waldo” as they spot Beal’s necessary homages, or direct quotes from HALLOWEEN 2, PSYCHO, ALIEN, HALLOWEEN II and THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. After this, I can only hope that someone puts out the music used in my favorite 80’s clip compilation IT CAME FROM HOLLYWOOD.

Also for Your Consideration


GLADIATOR meets LAST OF THE MOHICANS in the primal blood and thunder that Ilan Eshkeri pours into DESCENT director Neil Marshall’s kick-ass Roman vs. Pict epic. The noble symphonic flavor of old empire heroes gives a mighty backbone to Eshkeri’s approach. But it’s one thing to be wearing a fashionable helmet, and another to be chased through Britain’s worst environs by psycho barbarians – with top spear prize going to a ferocious warrior woman. Eshkeri energetically embodies this clash of warrior cultures with mystical percussion, female battle whoops and pounding action- but also with a nice romantic pit stop thrown in for good measure. It’s a CENTURION that does a lot of cool musical saluting to those who are about to die. Maximus, not to mention Conan, would be right at home lopping off heads in these harshly beautiful musical environs.


Sure KICK ASS might deservedly be stealing all of the wannabe superhero thunder. But Woody Harrelson’s upstart DEFENDOR proves himself to be far more than a second banana, particularly when given John Rowley’s imposing musical valor. Like its hero, Rowley impressively arrives from the scoring shadows to deliver a soundtrack that’s duded up with military determination and driven by a strong theme. Yet his avenger is also certifiable, especially as Rowley’s ironic bells and whistling flutter overhead like a western stand off waiting to happen. But what makes this all more than a one-joke idea is the sense that DEFENDOR’s laughs are always sympathetic ones, with a real emotional heart behind its satire. Sure this good guy might be low rent. But with the cinematic, and musical belief that’s invested in him, DEFENDOR can stand tall with the likes of KICK ASS in every respect.


A prolific TV composer for such shows as GUNSMOKE and DALLAS before taking on such big cinematic guns as THE MONSTER SQUAD and YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES, Bruce Broughton has since been mostly working back on the small screen. But that doesn’t mean his music has lacked any passion or scope, as the “Pilot” score that helped launch the military courtroom series JAG proves here with a sonic boom of sound. Full of galloping, symphonic bombast and lush themes, it’s naval music with a western sweep that will take listeners back to the composer’s days on TOMBSTONE and SILVERADO, not to mention his stars and stripes suspense for THE PRESIDIO. Steve Bramson would carry on Broughton’s tone in style for over 200 episodes during JAG.’s ten-year run, of which “Cowboys and Cossacks” is offered as strong evidence of his talent. Bramson’s full-throttle work is equally as cinematic, especially with its dark Russian mood and swirling, patriotic danger. It’s music good enough to compel a salute from soundtrack fans that may never have seen this show- of which I’m guilty as charged.


Dennis McCarthy might be best known in fandom for his numerous next-gen STAR TREK TV scores, let alone his feature entry with GENERATIONS. But it’s his score for Enterprise collaborator David Carson’s LETTERS FROM A KILLER that proves to be one of McCarthy’s most interesting, and atypical works. For where the TREK galaxy may have mostly consigned him to not making much of a musical commentary, KILLER is an all-out opportunity for southern-style menace. Having played nicer country rhythms for Glenn Campbell and Barbara Mandrell, McCarthy greedily dived into this film’s far darker bluegrass possibilities, mixing a sinister orchestra with an underworld of snarling guitars as Patrick Swayze’s parolee gets stalked. With echoes of Ry Cooder, McCarthy’s sinister, and always captivating approach is as atmospheric as a foggy bayou.


While he’s busier with big ticket action and rom-com scores like SKY CAPTAIN and BRIDE WARS, Ed Shearmur also has a soulful side to his music that’s most often brought out by writer-director Rodrigo Garcia on such multi-character pieces as THINGS YOU CAN TELL JUST BY LOOKING AT HER and NINE LIVES (you can even count the transcendent moodiness that Shearmur gave to Garcia’s PASSENGERS). Now MOTHER AND CHILD arrives with what just might be their most poetic collaboration, as Shearmur takes a look at the effects of adoption with a beautifully pensive score that’s carried by a guitar, piano and violin, with a lite, jazzy sax put in for good measure. Shearmur’s CHILD has a yearning poignance so fragile that it could break at any second, much like the films’ troubled parental bonds.


It isn’t easy being asked to fit your composing hand into a well-worn razor glove. But then again, the power of Platinum Dunes compelled Steve Jablonsky to take on the formidable task for the company’s latest horror re-invention. While his previous takes on Leatherface, Jason and John Ryder didn’t exactly allow for easy listening, Jablonsky does surprisingly well with giving Freddy a new, hypnotic spin, while also paying tribute to Charles Bernstein’s classic score that paved the way for every sequel score to follow, from ghostly children’s voices to eerie bell percussion. There’s even a tip of the fedora to Krueger’s famed elementary school rhyme. Sure the necessary horror slashes are here, but most of the score is spent with Jablonsky getting a truly eerie amount of melody into the bad dreams, his score reflecting this version’s tragically queasy take on the reasons why Freddy got burned in the first place, and his psychological aftereffects on his victims. It’s a new musical NIGHTMARE that definitely casts an effective, dark spell that you might not be eager to snap out of.


In an obvious 3D animation land of talking toys, trolls and animals, having an old-fashioned hand-drawn movie might seem like a product from the Dark Ages, where in fact THE SECRET OF THE KELLS takes place in. And who else to score something so daringly different than the Frenchman who added a truly magical touch to CORALINE? Yet it’s a further measure of Bruno Coulais’ utter uniqueness that his KELLS score sounds nothing like the other mother dimension of CORALINE’s, and everything like a score should be for a young boy exploring a land of monks, menacing Vikings and suspicious faeries. Coulais fills this colorful miasma with flutes, chimes, chanting and a true sense of melodic magic, with a highlight being young faerie voice actress Christen Mooney’s haunting “Aisling Song” that transforms a cat into a key-snatching spirit. Let’s hope that Coulais gets to further unlock these realms with the creativity he so effectively displays in KELLS.

CLICK on the album covers to make your hardcopy or download purchase, and find the soundtracks at these .com’s: Amazon, Buysoundtrax, Intrada, iTunes. Moviemusic, Moveiscoremedia, Screen Archives and Varese Sarabande

1 Comment

  • Linda Potter
    May 26, 2010 @ 5:35 pm

    Thanks for this great list of scores and soundtracks I would have missed. I’m a huge fan of Bruno Coulais and will have to take it off and Netflix list and purchase it for the music! Your magazine is an education.

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