Soundtrack Picks: THE BIGGEST LITTLE FARM is the top soundtrack to own for MAY, 2019
Also worth picking up: AVENGERS: ENDGAME, BEING ROSE, THE JERRY GOLDSMITH SONGBOOK, IRON WILL, PROM NIGHT, THE SENTINEL, THE SON, TANGOS DE CAMARA, TOLKIEN and many more!
To Purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the CD cover
THE TOP PICKS
1) AVENGERS: ENDGAME
What Is It?: Just as Marvel Comic’s OG heroes from the 1960s made a lasting impression, Alan Silvestri’s music for any number of 80’s genre classics has remained firmly entrenched in our pop culture consciousness. With his mightily symphonic hammer that thundered down memorable themes, Silvestri was perfectly suited to put on Captain America’s patriotic shield with “The First Avenger,” and then to guide the Avengers for their first movie adventure. Now with the Herculean task of wrapping up the the three phases of Marvel movies universe’s cosmic cube plot, Silvestri’s creates a powerhouse sequel score to his “Infinity War” with “Endgame.” It’s an epic achievement in bringing a storyline to its close, made even better this time by the film’s focus on humanity as opposed to a series of dazzlingly frantic battles.
Why Should You Buy It?: Where “Infinity War” was the desperate musical fight to stave off the apocalypse, “Endgame” is for a good portion a wholly different film by focusing on death and acceptance. It’s a solemnity that Silvestri captures with noble brass and delicate strings to convey a sense of a tragedy beyond imagination. Yet it’s a tone that avoids being depressing by capturing most of the heroes’ never-say-die spirit, even in the face of impossible odds – the deck firmly stacked by the dark motif of Thanos throughout. A master of time travel through his iconic “Back to the Future” scores (a saga that’s neatly referenced here), Silvestri sets the microverse-jetting heist into motion with rhythmic anticipation, with all of the themes he’s set up since “Captain America” coming into play to put the band back together along with other neat, subtle tips of the baton to other composers’ Marvel scores. His own callbacks to “Infinity War” are even more powerful here, especially as The Black Widow finds herself in the place of Gomorrah’s sacrifice with the same music that saw her off a cliff, but having even more impact given that this heroine is well aware of her fate. For all of the affecting melancholy at hand, there’s welcome new humor to the score, as in the delightfully unexpected addition of jazz grooves as Cap and Tony Stark find themselves in a 1970’s military base. Silvestri also makes good use of synth percussion in a way that brings out the sci-fi nature of the intergalactic threat, or touchingly uses spare, “Contact”-esque electronics as it appears Tony will met his end lost in space. That this three-hour plus movie goes by in a relative flash can also thank the drive that Silvestri gives the score, bringing a throttling energy for its lollapalooza end battle, as he segues’ between the joy of the heroes’ return with the desperation of a last stand.
Extra Special: A good part of Marvel’s cinematic longevity comes from making us feel these characters are part of the fan universe’s big, extended family, emotion that pays off here with mythic resonance. Silvestri has certainly written his share of memorable, tear duct-inducing moments in scores like “Forrest Gump.” And here he brings on a truckload of Kleenex with the legendary emotion befitting these long-loved heroes, a patriotic bugle leading to a choral and orchestral return of the full Marvel costumed compliment as Silvestri’s Avengers theme roars away. It’s biblical-level music that could just as easily accompany Moses parting the Red Seas. Then with equal quiet, Silvestri’s music glides though a reverent assemblage at Iron Man’s funeral, a fallen hero’s noble sacrifice then raising into the symphonic heavens before embodying the farewell on a single acoustic guitar and piano (much in the same way he stripped down Thanos’ seeming, regretful triumph for the cliffhanger of “Endgame”. For generations weaned on Marvel from their illustrated origins to this cinematic “end” until the next adventures begins, this music will likely remain unmatched in emotional impact, or for that matter in Silvestri’s own repertoire that’s the stuff of heroes, and more importantly the deep human feeling that makes millions around the globe feel like they’re part of a family. With this ultimate “Avengers” score, Alan Silvestri has musically booked what’s become the stuff of legend.
2) THE BIGGEST LITTLE FARM
What Is It?: When not embodying the bankrupt corridors of power to Emmy-winning effect on “House of Cards” or a real-life “Weiner” of a politician, composer Jeff Beal has often advocated for going back to the natural order of things in his documentary scores for “Blackfish,” “Last Call at the Oasis” and “An Inconvenient Sequel,” as well as fictionally chronicling a morally conflicted Old West in “Appaloosa.” It’s a talent for conveying man’s relationship to the environment in all of its melodic grandeur, and folksy intimacy that comes into charming, and meditative play in the wilds of LA-adjacent California that makes a vastly impressive and empathetic score for “The Biggest Little Farm” as two city slickers find that starting an organic paradise is far more of a chore than they reckoned in a film that reinvigorates both soil and soul.
Why Should You Buy It?: It seems like a jokily bad idea when nature documentarian John Chester and his food blogger wife Molly try to start their new lives on a hopelessly run down piece of land, a good-natured whimsy that Beal captures at the score’s start with a veritable Old McDonald of folksy instruments on hand, among them banjo, harmonica, washboard, accordion and a twangy guitar. These accompany the film’s cute animated interludes as Farmer Chester explains it all with a bemused, theme that nature and its balance, is really the boss of them. While Beal has fun with the couple’s exasperation, the “Farm” steadily gets down to dramatic earth of this thoroughly engaging, years-spanning saga. More serious, and spiritual thematic tones grow from the score, with spare piano, flute and sweeping, Americana strings rising and falling with hope and catastrophe as crops fail and the chickens that represent their prized eggs fall prey by the dozens to coyotes, and a trust dog. Once whimsical harmonicas and banjos become more reflective, with Impactfully pensive and downbeat moments showing that the couple’s urban enlightened dream of living and let live with the predators is not going be so PC. Yet that’s not to say that Beal’s approach looses any of its warmth, humor or energy amidst the couple’s pitfalls, especially with as a low bass flute and hoedown percussion becomes the unlikely friendship between a constantly pregnant pig and an outcast rooster. Whether amused or temporarily tragic, Beal brings a real feeling of empathy to the score’s shifting tones, achieving the goal of any documentary in bringing a truly cinematic emotional and musical scope to its subject in a way that makes the most of his musical resources.
Extra Special: Seamlessly combining rural instrumentation and a home studio recorded orchestra (which seems especially big given its exceptional playing by such musicians as flutist Sara Andon and guitarist George Doering), Beal’s obvious feeling for the subject ends up with one of the best scores in a prolific career that could fill a few stylistic orchards, beautifully capturing the balance of nature and its ability to enlighten humans. It’s a melodic thoughtfulness for this couple’s pilgrim’s progress through adversity and joy that makes “The Biggest Little Farm” soar to show the film and its soundtrack as a small hopeful lesson of people learning how to work in tandem with the environment in much larger picture of how we can just get along with the earth itself – a theme that’s musically, and socially more resonant than ever.
3) THE JERRY GOLDSMITH SONGBOOK
What is it?: Where such compatriots as John Williams and John Barry were known for score-based melodies that were turned into hit songs, Jerry Goldsmith’s equally memorable tunes have never quite gotten similar acclaim, or airplay. Now Buysoundtrax shines a vocal light on an instrumentally famed composer for one of the most interesting albums in Goldsmith’s canon with a freshly arranged, and performed “Songbook,” giving voice to the numbers that even the most ardent “bottle cap” collectors of the composer likely never realized existed.
Why Should You Buy It?: Many of the numbers heard from the 1960’s to century’s turn were written specifically for radio play, as was the case with many scores that tried to create a Top 40 hit song without actually featuring one in the movie or TV show itself. Such is the case with many lyrical revelations heard here – many of course finding lyrics from the project’s title – among them “Blue Velvet’s” Bernie Wayne creating a wistful “Patch of Blue,” “Baby the Rain Must Fall’s” and Ernie Sheldon making a toast for “May Wine” from “The Blue Max.” Hal Sharper tenderly conveyed the desire for liberation from Devil’s Island with “Papillon’s” “Free as the Wind” before summing up the angst of Vietnam vets with “First Blood’s” “It’s A Long Road.” Writers just as famed for their film song work as their pop and adult contemporary songs also memorably adapted Goldsmith’s melodies, among them Leslie Briscusse with a swooning “We Were Lovers” from “The Sand Pebbles,” with Paul Williams bringing fairy tale innocence to “The Secret of Nimh’s” “Flying Dreams” and “The Sum of All Fears” melancholy “If We Could Remember.” Songwriting power couple Alan and Marilyn Bergman found romantic Cold War solace inside “The Russia House’s” “Alone in the World.” But the biggest hit that Goldsmith had here came from his Dr. Kildare theme, with Hal Winn’s charming “Three Stars Will Shine Tonight.” One particular standout that should have been a hit back in the day is Estelle Levitt’s gorgeously noir-ish “Dark Song” from “The Detective,” while 80’s fans will certainly remember John Bettis’ disco-ready “Nights Are Forever” from the “Twilight Zone: The Movie,” with the lyricist bringing fairy tale magic to “Legend’s” “Princess Lilly.” But no matter the main theme being turned to song, what shines through all of these numbers is Goldsmith’s gift for melody – as well as his lyricist wife Carol Heather, who gets her due here with a romantically conscious “Sunday’s Moon” from “Coma,” “Players’” poetic love song “Meant To Be” and an unlikely love song from amidst Satan’s wrath in “The Omen’s” “The Piper Dreams.”
Extra Special: Goldsmith’s orchestrations are given vibrant new life that arrives from the lush period-specific arrangements from Dominik Hauser and Dan Redfeld, along with an accordion assist on “The Sand Pebbles” from Bear McCreary. Such artists as Katie Campbell, Fletcher Sheridan and Kira McLelland bring passion to this delightfully unexpected project, with one of of the real treasures here is Raya Yarbrough’s haunting rendition of “A Star Beyond Time,” which will immediately be recognizable as Ilia’s theme from “Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” its lyrics from Larry Kusik (of “The Godfather’s” “Speak Softly Love”) summon up the franchise’s theme of exploration with a song whose words become a romantic invitation to the end of the universe. It all makes for a memorable and unusual “Songbook” that spans Goldsmith’s career in its mission of unlocking the words that lay within the composer’s themes.
4) THE QUINN-MARTIN COLLECTION: Volume 1
What Is it?: If you were a TV addict during the 1960’s and 70’s, particularly of the cop show variety, there was likely no more familiar company words than the narration sign-off of “A Quinn-Martin Production.” From “The Streets of San Francisco” to “The Fugitive” and “The F.B.I.” (with even aliens to spare for “The Invaders”), Quinn- Martin was to justice in his day what Dick Wolf is now to the infinite variations of “Law & Order” and “CSI” (fill in the city) – offering slick, neatly sold 60 minute episodics that featured heroes now unimaginable among the oh-so attractive leads that fill cop shows – among them Buddy Epson’s senior citizen detective “Barnaby Jones” and William Conrad’s rotund badge-wearing “Cannon.” One thing that distinguished the quality of Quinn-Martin’s productions was their memorably jazzy tone that made them a musical brand name, often acquiring top big screen talent to bring every bit of their energy to the lawmen and private dicks that walked the major network beat. Now La La Land Records, a label that’s excelled with such TV music round-ups as “Star Trek,” “Mission Impossible,” “The Wild Wild West” and “The Man from Uncle” does a terrific two-CD lineup of some of the best, swinging soundtracks for the iconically intoned company during the 70’s.
Why Should You Buy It?: First in the line-up is Jerry Goldsmith and Bruce Broughton’s music for “Barnaby Jones.” Goldsmith had certainly done private eye sleuthing with the likes of “Warning Shot” (also on LLL) by the time of “Barnaby’s” 1973 episode “Requiem for a Son,” with the landmark “Chinatown” ahead the next year for the composer. Given QM shows renowned for their robust themes, Goldsmith delivered a memorably energetic one for Jones that truly put a spring in his step. Essentially based around his melody, “Barnaby” brings in era-specific funk guitar, along with the staccato orchestra-piano action sound that distinguished Goldsmith, abetted by stabbing percussion that might make you think Jones was on the trail of Norman Bates. Broughton would take up with Barnaby years later before his own cinematic breakout work, the composer’s more subdued work in “The Picture Pirates” following in Goldsmith’s tonal footsteps, while also breaking out into exciting funk and vibes. Dave Grusin took a rousingly jazzy approach for Burt Reynolds’ Florida-based TV shamus with “Dan August.” Presaging his own suspenseful and romantic work for director Sydney Pollack on “Three Days of the Condor,” Grusin varies between hip electric organ and orchestra, as accompanied by a strong, attitude-filled theme. Given the formula of TV episodics, Grusin (already skilled in shows like “The Wild Wild West”) goes especially far out here with his band approach, capturing the improv spirit of true jazz in some particularly energetic, piano-topped cues that convey Reynolds’ hip, sexy charisma.
Extra Special: CD 2 of Vol. 1 leads off with Lalo Schifrin suspenseful work for the 1976 QM show “Most Wanted.” For a composer who wrote the book on TV spying with the likes of “Mission Impossible” and “Man from UNCLE,” “Wanted” is a gripping exercise in crime tension. Though there’s just a hint of San Francisco’s dirtiest cop in his use of crime jazz, the abundance of dark synths, growling brass and long, intense passages hearken back to the bristling tension of his “Enter the Dragon” score, of course minus the Asian flavor. “CHiP’s” composer John Parker makes “Cannon” some of the most fun music on this compilation as jazzy and comical brass that make the no-nonsense detective an energetic musical force to be reckoned with. “Cannon” is almost the most diverse soundtrack on hand here, with source cues that swing between country music and classical harpsichord, then jamming with dirty hippy rock and swaggering horns that are positively Batman-esque. The one quality that resonates through all of the shows (brought together by music supervisor John Eizalde) is a feeling of character and energy, all fusing for a distinctive, rhythmic brand of Quinn-Martin crime busting music that’s remained especially vital for a line-up that’s been a long time coming for fans. And you couldn’t find a bigger one than armchair TV music detective Jon Burlingame (who originated the album through the Film Music Society’s preservation efforts) with always-fun liner notes ferret out the leads behind the music that distinguished a producer’s inimitable brand.
5) SON OF THE MORNING STAR
What is it?: TV western miniseries have often yielded composers’ most heartfelt work, from Basil Poledouris accompanying “Lonesome Dove’s” wagon train to Geoff Zanelli capturing a Native American trail of tears for “Into the West.” Now Craig Safan can fully add his score for “Son of the Morning Star” to the soundtracks for miniseries that have punctured the mythos of the west, in this case Custer’s last stand. Originally aired in 1991 over two nights on ABC then subsequently released on a single Intrada album, “Son’s” music abetted in a multi-faceted look at the general that in the past has ranged from the impossibly noble to the satirically buffoonish on the big and small screens, all while revealing a new orchestral breadth to Safan’s work. Cinematically notable in the 1980’s for blending orchestra with electronics in his richly melodic scores for “The Last Starfighter” and “Remo Williams” (as well as strikingly synth-driven work music “Warning Sign” and “The Legend of Billie Jean”), Safan moved far more into television in the early 90s with the likes of “An Inconvenient Woman,” “Tales from the Crypt” and “Mission of the Shark.” But no matter the medium he’d continue in, “Son of the Morning Star” remains a towering achievement for the musician, capturing an emotional grandeur worthy of a notorious historical event.
Why Should You Buy It?: Safan’s “Star” is essentially driven by an impactful, somber theme, its sweeping orchestral worthy of Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” in conveying a sense of tragedy amidst battle – timeless music that’s about the fallen rather than the violence of a fateful battlefield. Among its other notable motifs are somber strings that recall a Sir William Walton-like lyricism and a poignant love theme for Custer and his wife. A bugle summons the spirit of the cavalry, rolling drums and trumpeting brass conveying the military desire to seize manifest destiny by smashing Native American resistance. It’s an approach that brings Custer’s myth down to melodic earth. Safan also uses ethnic flutes, percussion and period waltzes and bands for the respective music of the tribes and military, his score itself capturing a sense of the late 1800’s without being overly beholden to it. Safan suspensefully builds a feeling of excitement and purpose to the emboldened general and his foes determined to make their own last stand. When Little Big Horn finally arrives, Safan’s charge into battle recalls the trumpeting excitement of his “Last Starfighter’s” far more innocent action, before his telltale theme rises with sweeping fatefulness for the tide being turned against the flag-waving troops – at least for one iconic moment.
Extra Special: Listening to “Son of the Morning Star” in all of its glory makes an already memorable score in the genre take its place among such latter-day classics as “Dances with Wolves” and “Tombstone.” Intrada’s exceptional release includes the numerous “bumpers” for commercial breaks, along with an eye-catching booklet accompanied by Frank K. DeWald’s informative liner notes that breaks down Custer’s history in real and imagined life while detailing the scope of what might be Craig Safan’s most emotionally impactful achievement.
ALSO FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:
. BEING ROSE
After his impressively victorious score for the Native American upstate lacrosse players of “Crooked Arrows,” composer Brian Ralston is back on the ethnic reservation again with the tribal music that suffuses an ill white woman’s journey to her destiny in “Being Rose.” Here, the evocative flutes, drumming and chanting of this spiritually attuned culture are part of a desert circle of life through which a defiant Cybil Sheppard pilots her wheelchair for one last romantic hurrah. At first thematically uptempo as the understandably sullen heroine finally opens up to life, Ralston’s nicely emotional score slowly dawns with fateful realization in a way that’s suffused with tenderness and understanding. Given the use of violin, twangy guitar and Mandolin, one can just as easily envision a wizened cowboy cantering into the final desert sunset, while synths and sitar equally tap “Being Rose’s” music into the new age environs of writer-director Rod McCall’s native New Mexico. With piano and strings giving lyrical air to the great outdoors of Ralston’s intimate travelogue, “Being Rose” has the poetic grace of transitioning to a far bigger plain, as heard in wistfully melodic terms of a woman’s last round-up on life, while at the same time painting a bright future for Ralston’s emotionally evocative music.
. DR. HECKYL AND MR. HYPE
‘Orrible Ollie went from a face that only a goblin mother could love to a suave ladykiller in one of his more (or many) insane efforts for Cannon Pictures back in 1980 with AIP’s satiric screenwriter Charles B. Griffith (“Little Shop of Horrors,” “Death Race 2000”). He’d certainly have author Robert Louis Stevenson spinning a few times in his grave by turning the famed English doctor into an LA-based podiatrist who gets Reed’s good looks via diet paste. Leave it to obscure specialist soundtrack label Dragon’s Domain to resurrect Richard Band’s appropriately nutty 1980 score – the third he’d done after graduating from the all-synth “Laserblast” (along with Joel Goldsmith, who provides synth help here) to proving his impressive symphonic mettle with “The Day Time Ended.” As such, “Heckyl” is a real blast from the past of a soon-to-be prolific composer who’d bring a distinctive sound to a legion of similarly eccentric pictures. If his most notorious one remains “Re-Animator,” “Heckyl” is notable for being Band’s first venture into horror comedy. His score leads off with a waltzing orchestra for his mix of cartoonish comedy with more empathetic themes, Band’s rampant stylistic transformations evoke the classical literature roots of the real Hyde deal before jumping into wacky, rudimentary synths. Tack pianos spin out ditties, electronics conjure satirical spooky-ooky’isms and a keyboard plays a woeful pop R&B tune. The end, insane result has a droll, bemused tone that would evolve even more outrageously for Band, but is certainly fun listening to here for the composer’s fans. Horror soundtrack expert Randall D Larson digs into both Band’s history, and this bizarre effort in his detailed liner notes for one of the composer’s nuttier black-humored efforts, which is saying something.
. HOTEL MUMBAI
Volker Bertelmann, (aka Hauschka) has excelled in character-driven soundtracks with an often experimental, world music touch that’s been heard for a killer kid (“Boy”) to a coupe’s survival tale (“Adrift”) and his Oscar-nominated score (co-written with Dustin O’Halloran) for a “Lion” searching India for his lost parents. All three thematic ideas fit into his score for “Hotel Mumbai,” a terrifying retelling of psychotic Islamism laying siege to an Indian city as the visitors and workers within its most prestigious establishment play a terrifying cat and mouse game with the attackers. It’s a devastating, real-life disaster film, whose attack Bertelmann slowly builds with uneasy electronic percussion, as blended with ethnic instrumentation and a sympathetic orchestra for the locals and their pride in this palace. While they’re unaware of their fate, audiences who dare to visit this picture obviously know what’s coming, and Bertelmann keeps up the tension, and his feeling for the victims that makes the moment the bottom will drop out on them all the more awful, and desperate. Though he uses hard-hitting sample and synth rhythm in a way that might befit an action score that sees American soldiers attacked by terrorists, what makes “Mumabi’s” pulse-pounding so effective is that it’s about ordinary people pushed into extraordinary acts of courage and often self-sacrifice for the good of their family, and their fellow hostages as a whole. It’s a musical feeling of humanity and country under siege that makes the film, and score incredibly gripping. As percussive suspense gets under the skin, piano, haunted atmosphere and tragic strings sneak, and race into closets, restaurants and hallways where death is just one wrong turn away. His emotion in the midst of the lethal storm ultimately paints a picture of humanity at its best and misguided worst, even giving empathy to one attacker calling his supportive parents. Hauschka builds the attack to its relentless suicidal end as nightmarish percussion and dark electronics rising to a fever pitch. It makes the elegiac cello and string melody of stepping into the light after unimaginable madness all the more musically impactful and affecting. Yet it’s in the final, ascending symphonic notes of hope and reflection as the hotel rebuilds in documentary footage that Hauschka movingly captures the heroism, and ultimate brotherhood of a movie that we’d like nothing better to escape from, but whose music relentlessly holds us at bay.
. IRON WILL
Whether it’s “Old Yeller,” “Big Red,” “White Fang” or “The Shaggy Dog,” Walt Disney live action has celebrated the bond between young men and man’s best friend, no more adventurously than in 1994’s 1917-set “Iron Will.” “Hill Street Blues’” Charles Haid stepped behind the camera (while singing in front of it) to direct this enduring sled dog competition film as a kid emboldened with patriotic spirit rouses a pre-WWI nation as he tries to lead his pack to victory. Given vast landscapes and the film’s rousing spirit, “Iron Will” couldn’t have had a better lead composer than Joel McNeely. Long one of Hollywood’s best, unsung orchestral composers (who’s now helping to pilot “The Orville,)” McNeely was particularly impressing during that decade with his thrillingly adventurous scores on “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles,” “Squanto: A Warrior’s Tale,” “Wild America” and “Gold Diggers,” all soundtracks that involved maturing characters testing their mettle through the great outdoors. But it just might be his first major Hollywood score on “Iron Will” that leads that pack, especially given a resoundingly expanded new edition on Intrada Records (whose release of McNeely’s way more romantic “Samantha” gained Haid’s initial attention). Conveying the spirit of such symphonic masters as John Williams, Bruce Broughton and Alfred Newman in particular, McNeely creates a gloriously theme-driven work that combines the heroism of Indiana Jones with a range-spanning exuberance that brings to mind “How the West Was Won,” albeit this being a frozen wilderness the dogs gallop through. But perhaps most important in the score’s blazing success is just how well it captures the innocence and daring that stands for the Disney spirit. Starting with a feeling of warm optimism as its hero takes up the challenge of a 500 mile race with 10k in the offing, McNeely’s noble brass, lush strings and dynamic rhythm launch the music into more exuberant peril, conveying a struggle against nature itself along with a majestic appreciation of it. It’s old fashioned symphonic writing in the best sense at embodying what used to be American moxie, its hero’s push to win building for a final, throttling race to the finish line. The result is both breathless and glorious in celebrating not only the bond between a boy and his dogs, but the emotional drama that McNeely’s full command of the orchestra brings to an “Iron Will” that’s gone from 30 minutes to over 70, with John Takis’ exceptional liner notes featuring new interviews with McNeely and Haid on this incredible musical journey.
. LES MISERABLES (Original Series Soundtrack)
An English composer whose career hit its stride with characters on the ferocious run from the zombies of “28 Days Later,” “Snatch’s” swearingly eccentric gangsters and the comical rogues of “Friday After Next,” John Murphy has essentially been absent from the scoring scene after 2010’s comic book satire “Kick-Ass.” But if he’s been hiding for years like Jean Valjean, Murphy has now similarly resurfaced with indelible emotional power for this BBC miniseries adaptation of “Les Miserables.” While not the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, Murphy’s status as an inventive voice in progressive scoring is very much alive here for his welcome return. Certainly Victor Hugo’s tale was around long before on the big and small screens, usually given rousingly symphonic accompaniment by the likes of Alfred Newman, Gabriel Yared and Allyn Ferguson. With this adaptation having a more realistic take on the material, Murphy hears this epic story of imprisonment, endless pursuit and redemption with a soulful, stripped down intimacy. It’s an approach that recalls his more experimental work on scores like the menacing spacescapes of “Sunshine,” “Millions” chiming innocence and even the electric guitar rage of “28 Days Later.” On one hand, there’s a moving, melodic spirituality to the score that doesn’t hint of any period – which is acknowledged by such instruments as the Hurdy Gurdy, Cimbalom and a 400-year old Viola. It’s a combination that has a unique, time-warped musical feeling of an uprising that was raging across an aristocracy-ruled world well beyond France. With his transfixing work that makes excellent use of meditative synths, child-like percussion, aching cello and sometimes fevered strings among its interesting instrumental choices, the overall melodic effect of Murphy’s “Les Miserables” is hearing angered injustice being tamed by gentle innocence, even as revolution burns the everything around. It’s a thematic album that makes for one of the most notably trippy musical interpretations that this timeless story, while showing a composer who’s remained as offbeat and interesting as ever.
. MINUSCULE: MANDIBLES FROM FAR AWAY / TERRA WILLY – UNEXPLORED PLANEY
Though Hollywood offers a wealth of symphonically animated scores known the world over, the French are also flying high with orchestral works that are often as impressive in breathing colorful life into CG characters. Now two ear-catching soundtracks on Music Box offer charming renditions of outer, and inner space worlds with “Minuscule” and “Terra Willy.” A sequel to “Minuscule: Valley of the Lost Ants” (available to American viewers on Amazon Prime), “Mandibles from Far Away” takes its ladybug hero from the wilds of the French countryside to the Caribbean. Taking the computer conceit of “A Bug’s Life” to the eye-catching conceit of marrying real life footage with animated insects in a way “Roger Rabbit” would admire, the new “Minuscule” takes a robust score to fully realize this stylized world, and composer Mathieu Lamboley delivers. Capturing melodic warmth that brings to mind John Williams, Bruce Broughton and John Powell. Lamboley wonderfully conveys a very small insect lost amidst a land of giants, let alone slightly bigger foes trying to have him for lunch. Thankfully help is on the way from back home in the form of ladybug parents and ant friends, a voyage in a balloon that Lamboley brings floating, adventurous magic to, carried on the winds of numerous, memorable themes. Mostly using an orchestra, Lamboley’s music is full of mischievously bouncing, and poignant character, darting around cartoonish pratfalls to play his bountiful melodies straight. It’s completely enchanting, not only delivering a ladybug to a strange tropical land, but listeners as well to how an unbelievably lush orchestra can become a character in itself, a la Peter and the Wolf, as heard for the “Minuscule” world with a surfeit of enchantment.
Segueing to a kid getting lost in space, “The Jungle Bunch’s” Olivier Cussac provides a fun, uptempo score that’s more in the pop-fusion land that’s the tone of Hollywood toon scoring with “Terra Willy.” Not that a firm hold of the orchestral joystick isn’t heard throughout this entertaining score as a boy and his ‘bot try to survive on a strange alien world of friendly critters and those out for a light snack. Cussac ventures from straight-up symphonic fun to Spaghetti western guitar, precocious jazz, disco, whistling and lovely voice work as it conveys a joyous sense of stylistic discovery a la John Powell’s “Ice Age” work (if not exactly one that’s as of-the-second crazy). But as pop energetic as “Terra Willy” might get with songs popping in here and there, his folksy guitar, whistling and tender strings and guitar also get across the nicely emotional idea of a hero who’d like nothing better than to get back to mom and dad. Like “Minuscule,” “Terra” has a sense of adventure that’s ready to travel overseas, singing with a universally understood language of how great animated scoring can bring characters to rousingly melodic life.
. PROM NIGHT
One of the 80’s best slasher scores (for one of the decade’s best slashers right at its start) finally hits the CD disco-orchestral floor with Perseverance’s release of “Prom Night.” As one of the first entries to capitalize on the “Halloween” craze (its credentials enhanced by having starlet Jamie Lee Curtis once again running from a masked killer), “Prom Night” helped turn the genre from a rampant maniac on the teen-slaughtering lose to being far more of a spin on Agatha Christie’s “Ten Little Indians” – here with a bunch of kids as opposed to English aristocracy paying the ultimate price for a past sin right as they enter full adulthood. With no small amount of these pictures getting made in the Great White North, “Prom Night” acquired the team of Carl Zittrer and Paul Zaza for an approach that could easily befit an English-set murder mystery – something the pair had more than proven their ability in given their work for Bob Clark’s impressive Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper picture “Murder By Decree.” For Zittrer, the attachment to killer horror went even further back to Clark’s “Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things,” “Deathdream” and the phone-whispering maniac terrorizing a sorority house on “Black Christmas.” It’s that picture which “Prom Night” especially hearkens back to with a vengeance-seeking killer whispering sweet, horrifying nothings to his victims before they receive the knife, glass pane and axe. “Prom Night” marked Zaza and Zittrer’s once again showed their talent for thematic suspense. Without bashing listeners over the head with blunt instrumentation, Z & Z bring empathy to the darkness at hand, from a tender piano and flute to melancholy strings that show how loss has turned into rage, strings taking a sickening, distended plunge with the kills. But perhaps no “Prom Night’s” cue is as scary as the echoing voices that accompany its taunting killer’s tones. It’s a gripping suspenseful, yet intimate approach for quivering, stabbing music evocative for a heroine in peril, one that shares impressive company with Pino Donaggio’s work on “Don’t Look Now” and “Carrie,” especially the latter as the melodic tension leads to a similarly bloody (if not quite as catastrophic) graduation celebration. But for all of its impressive orchestration, “Prom Night” wouldn’t stick in horror fans’ affectionate memory if not for its disco songs, which are all here in polyester and suede suit spades. From synth beats to jazzy horns to lush strings, Zaza and Zittrer catchily well-produced songs recalled any number of the era’s chart topping hits. But no tunes are more effective than the soulful rhythm of “Love Me ‘Til I Die” a song that leads to romantically funky title track of “Prom Night,” a hand-clapping, electronically glittering song that accompanies Jamie Lee’s impressive moves that are soon upstaged by a bully’s head rolling across the lighted floor. The smartly written “Fade To Black” serves as an unexpectedly moving end title ballad as Gordene Simpson’s soothing voice sums up the wasted life, and butchered victims of the final unmasking. It’s a song made all the more memorable by perhaps being perhaps the only sympathetic ode written for a slasher back in the day. From its dance beats to suspenseful old school scoring, Perseverance has finally expanded “Prom Night’s” super rare Japanese bootleg LP into a score-song soundtrack that’s a real bloody valentine for fans of symphonic OG slasher suspense, as crossed with murder in the disco.
. THE SENTINEL
A Satanic cinema craze put into NYC real estate vogue by 1968’s “Rosemary’s Baby” would yield an even more sinister Manhattan property with 1977’s “The Sentinel,” wherein comely new model tenant Christina Raines discovers the priest-occupied upstairs apartment contains the gateway to hell. While “Rosemary’s” bad dreams got under the skin and “The Omen” offered a plethora of graphic deaths, what made “The Sentinel” truly disturbing beyond its gross out’s was the use of sideshow performers to represent the underworld’s minions, a transgressive power that was often a trademark of “Death Wish” director Michael Winner. But a whole other reason “The Sentinel” remains one of the 70’s more memorably twisted horror films is the truly ominous score by Gil Mellé. Starting off his career as an artist and jazz performer who invented his own instruments, Mellé applied his experimental touch to electronics for his groundbreaking, otherworldly contagion score for 1971’s “The Andromeda Strain.” He’d make a particular impression in TV horror with the miniseries “Frankenstein: The True Story” and episodes of “The Night Gallery” and “Kolchak: The Night Stalker” before visiting “The Sentinel’s” hellmouth with a chilling fusion of orchestra and electronics. While distinctive motifs can be heard, Mellé’s score is perhaps made all the creepier by evading the kind of immediately melodic themes distinguished Krysztof Komeda and Jerry Goldsmith brought to Rosemary Woodhouse and Damien Thorne. Instead, Mellé’ creates the sense of cheerful normality being overwhelmed by the disorienting discovery of absolute evil. Right from the move-in, warm, feminine strings are entwined with a dire orchestra and moaning voices, with a religious tone just this side of the satanic greatest hit “Dies Irae.” Though his use of electronics here isn’t quite as bizarre, or sci-fi as “Andromeda Strain,” Mellé’s unearthly synths get progressively stranger to the point of yowling as the apartment’s truth is suspensefully revealed, with the music’s Catholicism coming into play with organ and chorus. Mellé’s orchestration seamlessly varies from a full, turbulent orchestra to ominous piano and violin (though Mellé does offers a sly archdiocese break-in for jazz vibes and military timpani). By the time that hell literally breaks lose in the film and score, Mellé hits his righteous, bell-ringing peak as the devil’s minions are repelled with biblical force, though with a darkness that tells us a new tenant will be needed. Now finally unleashed with terrific, all-enveloping sound, “The Sentinel” claims its stake as one of the decade’s most unsettling horror scores with its use of distraught melody and freaked-out dissonance. Far sunnier source cues can be heard on the bonus tracks that range from swinging club and bachelor pad grooves to the pleasant vibes of a shampoo and lipstick commercial, with even a jaunty polka and ragtime piano on hand, The liner notes by Jeff Bond James Anthony Philips do a thorough job of exploring Mellé’s haunted tonalities and created instruments that made for Manhattan’s most horrifying captivating apartment. Now here’s hoping that La La Land Record’s new partnership with Universal to get into the studio’s vaults can continue to unlock the unique terrors that lie within Mellé’s studio’s attic, particularly when it comes to one of his best scores for a modern Prometheus.
. THE SON
From “Dallas” to “Yellowstone,” sprawling, blood-oil soaked family sagas have been the rage – a genre that that’s one of morally ambiguous modern-day western. But few shows have taken the premise back to its roots, let alone with the time-weaving scope of AMC’s “The Son,” which cuts between the mid-1800’s Comanche upbringing of a captured white kid, who ultimately becomes Pierce Brosnan’s cattle baron in the early 1900’s. Giving the saga a twisted, musical authenticity is Nathan Barr, a composer who brought a rurally gothic approach to the vampire clan of “True Blood,” and a family bond of Soviet espionage to “The Americans” suburban family. Uniquely striking instrumentation has been a hallmark of Barr’s work, which paints an eerily somber range here. Mandolin, fiddle guitarpahone and harmonium get across an unforgiving, haunted land full of hard choices, abundant mortality and fateful tragedy. Violence comes with hard-riding percussion, Spaghetti westerns summoned with harmonica and the voice for the sad fate of Native Americans heard in moaning, wordless vocals. Strings also bring its matriarch’s force of personality to bear on the drama in this powerful collection of “The Son’s” first season music that shows how well Barr links together the history of past and present. His “Son” is one part tone poem to a vanished country, and the other preserving a ruthless destiny with a vengeance. It’s particularly inspired to cap the album off with Leonard Cohen, with the doom-drenched Canadian musician having his song “Seemed A Better Way” turned into a beautifully downbeat western ballad as performed by ZZ Top’s Billy F. Gibbons, his voice summing up the unspoken regrets of a relentless Texan oil baron alongside Barr’s fateful music.
. TANGOS DE CAMARA
Some composers most interesting, and heartfelt projects lie outside of the screen where ideas can freely flow, whether their imaginations turn into modern classical music, rock operas or chamber works. Given the Argentinean origin of the talented Daniel Tarrab (“The Whore and the Whale,” “The Fish Child”), it’s understandable that his passion project lies in his country’s proud dance form of the tango – a flow of erotic, jazzy movement that’s often been the cinematic expression of romance from “Scent of a Woman” to “The Addams Family,” or used as an ironic instrumental for “12 Monkeys” and “Apartment Zero.” Titled “Otra Mirada” (translated as “Another Look”), Tarrab brings his own distinctive voice to this lovely, melodic form. With the lush orchestral backing of players hailing from the Buenos Aries Symphony Orchestra, Nestor Marconi on the Bandoneon and Pablo Agri on the violin create a trio with Tarrab that conjures quite lovely magic. With each piece carrying its own theme Tarrab goes for feelings that range from smoldering jazz to nostalgic, remembrance, with such instruments as the piano creating a palpable feeling of smoky film noir, or a seductive, rose-clenched movement towards seduction, there’s an energetic ease with which Tarrab glides across his themes, makes listeners his dance partner in these captivating, exceptionally orchestrated performances that show a composer equally at home making magic for dance as well as the moving image to show the tango’s universal, sultry appeal.
As a young composer who daringly explored a new world of fantastical, experimental movie scoring in a Hollywood, Thomas Newman has consistently opened up beautifully haunting new realms of what film music is capable of. The similarly imaginative writer J.R.R. Tolkien couldn’t have a better biopic comrade for a tale of real life mirroring imaginative art in a way that melds the sound of a realm of dragons, Orcs and Hobbits with a true fellowship that takes “Tolkien” from oppressive boarding school through the battlefield of WWI to his destiny as the creator of modern fantasy writing. Newman has certainly done his time in period scores like “Little Women,” where he demonstrated his orchestral lineage with the finesse of his far more surreal work. “Tolkien” combines these lushly emotional strings with hypnotic samples and electronics with a religious bent in a way that’s similar to his haunting score to the belief-driven characters of “Oscar and Lucinda” – except here that religiosity is to be found in Tolkien’s love of language. Newman casts a hypnotic spell of enchantment in an author who’s frequently looking up at the stars, with translucent atmospheres, elvish-like voices, lyrical piano and bird-chirping percussion creating a sound where both graceful, and fearsome creatures lurk within the labyrinth of nature and words. Jaunty percussion and melody conveying both the stiff-upper lip education of Tolkien as well as the exuberance of friendship in a metaphoric life, while more nightmarish sounds connect the story to Tolkien’s trench warfare quest through dragons, demons and flame throwing Germans to find his comrade. With the film told in a way that’s far more “Masterpiece Theater” than “Lord of the Rings,” Newman’s score has an elegance that makes one feel at home in both 1900’s England and a metaphoric kingdom far beyond it, creating a magical, haunting feeling of destiny that comes through the forge of tragedy. For a composer who helped write the book on how far out major soundtracks could dare to tread, the moving “Tolkien” is one of his best works at combining two musical worlds to shows how reality can translate into powerful wish fulfillment.
. TEST / WILD FIELD
As an especially promising composer to hail from Russia, Alexei Aigui made an international soundtrack splash with his 2017 scores for scores for “The Young Karl Marx” and “I Am Not Your Negro.” One was a rabble-rousing orchestral origin story for the proletariat, while the other used American jazz rhythms for a revolutionary black poet during his people’s revolt. Just as they’d featured both soundtracks on one album, Music Box goes back to Aigui’s home country for a two-fer that powerfully conveys his more intimate musical landscapes, the first being 2014’s “Test.” Given a love triangle in the middle of nowhere between a sheltered young woman and two admirers, Aigui creates beautifully melodic tone poem, his strong, flowing string themes and piano creating an environment of both bucolic peace and desire in a movie of no subtitles. The voice that’s here is a wordless Mongolian one, as native Buryat singer Namgar expresses longing, strength and melancholy as her ethnic tones paint a time-lost landscape, and the jealousy that comes with its wind-swept remoteness. It’s a sound of trouble entering a wind-swept paradise on the edge of the world that recalls Hans Zimmer’s meditative orchestra in “The Thin Red Line,” to similarly powerful effect here. Next up and reaching back even further in Aigui’s repertoire is 2008’s “Wild Field,” which has the similar steppe-set theme of the effects of isolation in the Russian hinterlands – in this case a young doctor treating the locals while pining away for girlfriend to join him. Aigui takes a more rugged and tormented approach in this Central Asian “Field” with accordion, voice and such Russian folk instruments the Hurdy-Gurdy, Vladimir’s Horn and reed flutes. It’s a haunting, sometimes bereft score as the singer cries out with anguish, the album ending with the poignant Russian song “I Asked the Wind.” Put together, both scores are intoxicatingly soulful tone in painting a picture of vast space and the human dots in it, both soundtracks linked with Aigui’s own, uncommonly soulful voice that’s continued to make new company.
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