Archive for August, 2010

Soundtrack Collection: Cartoon Concerto to Catch Me If You Can

Saturday, August 28th, 2010

 Cartoon Concerto

Cartoon Concerto (Bruce Broughton, 2003): I generally haven’t been including compilation albums in my reviews of my soundtrack collection (although I have many), but I am making an exception in order to call attention to this wonderful collection of cartoon scores composed by Bruce Broughton.  The scores are generally complete and not available anywhere else.  This is actually a promotional release, but copies can usually be tracked down with some searching.  At the time I’m writing this, there is one copy available at a reasonable price from the Amazon link above and Percepto Records (which, I believe, produced the album) has copies available from their website.

The CD includes complete scores to the Disney animated short “Off His Rockers” (which played with the Broughton-scored film Honey, I Blew Up the Kid) and the two Roger Rabbit shorts “Roller Coaster Rabbit” and “Trail Mix-Up”.  Also included is an 18-minute suite of music from Broughton’s numerous scores to the popular Steven Spielberg produced TV series “Tiny Toon Adventures”.  The CD also includes another 18 minute suite entitled “Scherzo Berzerko in 3 Portions”, which isn’t identified as coming from a specific source.  This is most likely a suite compiled from a variety of sources and, since this is a promo disc, it may be partly or entirely example music composed specifically for the promo.

Considering that the majority of the source music was pretty clearly inspired by the classic Warner Bros “Looney Toons” shorts, it isn’t surprising that Broughton’s style throughout this album calls to mind the work of Carl Stalling.  The music is all orchestral and extremely brass heavy with a very fast paced and lots of quick stings and humorous motifs, including occasional samples of familiar melodies.  The music is exceptionally well organized on this CD and it really does play like a cohesive symphonic work.  This disc is simply a lot of fun!

Casablanca

Casablanca (Max Steiner, 1942): Casablanca is a pretty likely candidate for being the most truly beloved of American films.  I’m sure there are people out there that don’t care for it, but I can’t say that I recall encountering any.  The movie was a nearly perfect mix of drama, romance, intrigue, and humor.  Max Steiner’s score and Dooley Wilson’s entertaining performances of several classic songs contributed a lot to the film’s success.

Rhino Records released a soundtrack CD, which contains a mix of dialog, songs, and score.  A better, purely score and songs release would certainly be welcome, although the Rhino release is probably a more commercially acceptable approach for this film.  The condition of the recordings is also surprisingly poor for such a famous film, with quite a bit of static and noise in many of the cues.  The orchestral score portions are in much better condition than the songs and dialog segments and sometimes there is a noticeable shift in quality even within a single cue.  In some cases, it sounds like the music may have come from LP sources.

The most famous music in the film is, of course, the song “As Time Goes By”, written by Herman Hupfeld.  The song wasn’t originally written for the film, but is now pretty much inseparably associated with it.  In addition to Wilson’s famous performance of the song, Steiner very frequently incorporates the melody into the score.  The rest of the score is extremely romantic, with extensive use of lush strings and piano melodies.  Some ethnic elements come into play, particularly during the medleys from the Paris sequences.

I’m generally not a fan of dialog on a soundtrack album and do feel that there is too much here.  On the other hand, Casablanca has such a rich selection of exceptionally well-known lines and speeches that it isn’t hard to understand why it was included.  Very little of the album features score that doesn’t have dialog and/or sound-effects over the top and it almost plays more like a story album than a score soundtrack.  At the end of the album, there are 3 cues, running about 15 minutes, that do present some of the score cues without the dialog.  A better presentation of Steiner’s score is definitely needed, but at least the key parts are there.

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Soundtrack Collection: Caboblanco to Cars

Saturday, August 21st, 2010

Caboblanco

Caboblanco (Jerry Goldsmith, 1980): This film was essentially a low-budget remake of Casablanca set in Peru and starring Charles Bronson in the Bogart role, so it isn’t too surprising that this isn’t a particularly well remembered movie.  This was the first collaboration between Jerry Goldsmith and director J. Lee Thompson (their best known project together was King Solomon’s Mines) and the composer delivered a pleasant, if unspectacular, Spanish-styled score for the film.

The soundtrack CD opens with a fun “Main Title” cue that establishes a primary theme for the film that is characterized by Latin rhythms and instruments, including acoustic guitar, tambourines,  castanets,  and a solo trumpet.  The theme is typically distinctive for Goldsmith, but isn’t developed very much during the remainder of the soundtrack.  Outside of the titles, Goldsmith’s main theme and Latin-influenced styling is on best display in the cue “Beckdorf’s House” and in a very nicely melodic arrangement in the opening portion of the cue “The Drowning”.

The primary romantic theme in the score isn’t actually composed by Goldsmith at all.  Instead, Goldsmith adapted the classic Nat King Cole song “The Very Thought of You”, which was written by Ray Noble.  The soundtrack includes a few different instrumental arrangements of the song’s melody.  Goldsmith also composed another period-appropriate song entitled “Heaven Knows”, which is sung by his wife Carol on the soundtrack.

A soundtrack CD for the film was originally issued in 1993 by Belgium film music label Prometheus Records.  That same label reissued the same program in a limited edition release in 2005.  Both editions are relatively easy to find at reasonable prices.

Cain's Hundred

Cain’s Hundred (Jerry Goldsmith, Morton Stevens, 1961): This early 60s TV series was one of the earliest scoring projects for Jerry Goldsmith (he was actually billed as “Jerrald” instead of “Jerry”).  Film Score Monthly released a CD containing the scores to the four episodes of the series that were scored by Goldsmith as well as one episode scored by Morton Stevens. 

The disc opens with Goldsmith’s end title cue, which is a full arrangement of his main theme and also includes a couple bumpers and alternate arrangements of the theme.  Goldsmith also pretty regularly incorporates the theme into his scores and even Morton uses it occasionally.  The theme has kind of a swing-style to it, while still being reasonably dark in tone.  It is a style that Goldsmith would return to pretty regularly for his TV series themes.

The music is very atmospheric and suspense oriented and is generally a precursor to the style that Goldsmith would use for a number of crime dramas (particularly for TV) over the course of his career.  Strings and percussion dominate as well as some occasional piano and some punctuating bursts of brass.  The scores seem to be played by pretty much a full orchestra, which is somewhat surprising for a TV series.  As is typical for TV scores, the cues tend to be short, although the soundtrack CD is organized to sometimes combine multiple short cues into longer ones.

The Morton Stevens score does follow the basic musical style that Goldsmith had established for the series, but is also recognizably the music of a different composer.  In particular, Stevens’ approach included a bit more use of solo instruments, particularly piano and violin.

Cannon for Cordoba

Cannon for Cordoba (Elmer Bernstein, 1970): Varese Sarbande released this Bernstein western/war movie score as part of their CD Club series on a 2-CD set that paired it with Bernstein’s score to From Noon to Three.  While a limited edition of 3000 copies, this set is still available from their website.

The CD opens with an absolutely tremendous “Main Title” cue.  The cue starts with some exciting percussion music before transitioning into a wonderfully brassy march.  While the little-known film that it came from has kept this theme from becoming very familiar, I think it is in the same league as Bernstein’s famous themes to The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape

The film is set during the early 20th century border skirmishes between Mexico and Texas and major parts of the score has a definite Mexican flavor to it, although mixed with some of Bernstein’s usual military-style action cues.  The main theme is brought in periodically throughout the score, although Bernstein does use it somewhat sparingly.  Acoustic guitar and trumpet are featured pretty prominently during much of the score.  There is a particularly nice secondary theme that plays regularly in the score, usually on the acoustic guitar.

The score includes some Bernstein-composed source music, such as the cue “One Man Band” that is a fun tune played primarily on the acoustic guitar and harmonica, while the later “One Man Band II” and “One Man Band III” are other Mexican-style cues that bring in a larger range of instruments, particularly violin and trumpet.  The last 25 minutes of the hour and 10 minute disc is all source music, mostly Bernstein’s arrangements of traditional street mariachi music, which is highly entertaining.  The last couple tracks also include a belly dance and a fairly traditional, patriotic-sounding march.

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Soundtrack Collection: Braveheart to By Love Possessed

Sunday, August 15th, 2010

Braveheart

Braveheart (James Horner, 1995): 1995 was a pretty big year for James Horner.  That year, he scored two highly-acclaimed films, both of which were front-runners at the Academy Awards.  While Apollo 13 was the bigger hit at the box office, Braveheart was the Best Picture winner and both the film and score have retained an extremely loyal following, with the soundtrack album remaining one of the top sellers of the genre.  Somewhat famously, Horner’s two scores apparently split the Academy’s vote for Best Original Score, resulting in the award going to Luis Bacalov’s Il Postino, instead. 

Horner has always been influenced quite a bit by Scottish and Irish regional music and the Scottish theme and setting of this film certainly gave him a major opportunity to directly exercise those influences.  Thus, the score is pretty heavy on bagpipes, pan flute, and other instruments from that culture.  Choral elements are also included and are used sparingly enough to be quite effective.  That Horner has a tendency to sometimes mix Scottish and Irish influences in the score is somewhat of a minor quibble for most fans/viewers.  The scores overall style is one that Horner has continued to revisit from time to time, most famously with his enormously popular Titanic score.

One element of the score’s popularity is Horner’s noble and evocative main theme, which is first introduced as a bagpipe melody during the “Main Title” cue and is presented in a variety of orchestrations throughout the rest of the score.  Horner also provides a couple of effective, more romantic themes which are brought together very well in the cue “For the Love of a Princess”.  The films’ several battle sequences are scored with a mix of fairly typical Horner action motifs along with some percussion-driven ethnic elements.

The soundtrack CD runs for a little over an hour and 17 minutes and features quite a few pretty lengthy cues.  At that length, I think it very effectively covers the important parts of this score and may even be a bit long, considering that the score does repeat itself a fair amount.  The ongoing popularity of the score resulted in the release of a second More Music From Braveheart album that contained some more of Horner’s music as well as various source cues from the film.  I’ve always felt that the first release was enough, though, and have never felt the need to pick up the second album.

Breakheart Pass

Breakheart Pass (Jerry Goldsmith, 1975): In the 1960s and 1970s, Jerry Goldsmith was given many opportunities to score westerns, although his projects generally were less prominent projects than the assignments his contemporaries like Elmer Bernstein and Ennio Morricone tended to get.  This Charles Bronson western was one of the latest ones that he worked on, coming out at a time when audience interest in the genre was definitely on the decline.

The highlight of the score is definitely Goldsmith’s brassy and upbeat theme, which was pretty typical of his themes for the genre, but also extremely entertaining.  The theme is fully developed in the terrific “Main Title” cue and also wraps the score up very well during the end credits suite.  Goldsmith peppers the rest of the score with bits and pieces of the theme as well, although he doesn’t use it quite as regularly as he sometimes has with other main themes in his scores.

The score also has some good action music, with my favorite being the fast paced and exciting cue “On the Move – Runaway”, in which Goldsmith is able to musically very successfully evoke the image of a runaway train.  The moving train motif is one that he returns to in several other cues as well, including “The Casket – Box Car Fight”.  Overall, the score is a bit more driven by suspense cues, although periodically punctuated by some bursts of fairly exciting action.

One somewhat surprising aspect to this score is that Goldsmith fairly rarely uses common western conventions (the harmonica is almost entirely absent), instead giving the score a somewhat more modern sound, even using electronics occasionally.  The main theme is generally pretty brassy and the action sequences are dominated by brass and strings.  Some of the score’s quieter moments include some sensitive acoustic guitar and woodwind music as well.

La La Land Records released a limited edition (3,000 copies) CD containing 45 minutes of the score.  The CD is sold out, but copies can generally be found in the $25-$30 range.  This is a good score and definitely worth seeking out for Goldsmith’s fans, particularly those that especially enjoy his western themes.

The Bridge at Remagen

The Bridge at Remagen (Elmer Bernstein, 1969): This World War II adventure score by Elmer Bernstein was released by Film Score Monthly as a Silver Age Classics limited edition, paired on a single disc with Maurice Jarre’s score to the 1964 film The Train.  Bernstein’s score only runs for slightly under 30 minutes on the CD, but the liner notes indicates that to be a complete presentation of the music that he wrote for the film.

The score opens with a very impressive “Main Title” cue featuring an exciting, military-style march with lots of brass and percussion.  It is the type of theme that really grabs your attention.  While I haven’t seen the film, I would imagine this theme was a very effective way to get the audience pumped up and attentive.

Bernstein does occasionally return to the main theme during the rest of the score, but other parts of the score are quieter and more subtle in nature.  Often times, the score shifts to fairly intimate, string and/or piano focused melodies, often intermixed with periodic shifts to brass and percussion that signal more action oriented segments.  Particularly good examples of this mix are the cues “Defenses” and “Confrontation/More Madness”.  The combination is quite effective and very enjoyable.

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Soundtrack Collection: Bolt to Brave Little Toaster

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

 Bolt

Bolt (John Powell, 2008): Disney’s 2008 CGI animated feature was not a musical, thus the soundtrack album primarily features the orchestral score by composer John Powell, who has generally done some of his best work in animated features (including Shrek, the Ice Age sequels, Kung Fu Panda, and How to Train Your Dragon).  This was his first score for Disney and it is well suited to the film.

The soundtrack album opens with the two songs from the film, both of which have a modern country style.  The first is “I Thought I Lost You”, the end-credits song performed by the film’s voice stars John Travolta and Miley Cyrus, which is a fairly interesting pairing for a duet.  The other song is “Barking at the Moon” performed by Jenny Lewis, which was used more prominently over a key montage sequence in the film.

Powell’s score has an interesting mix of styles, due to the somewhat dual nature of the film itself.  The main story of the lost dog trying to find its way home called for a fairly tender, emotionally driven score, which Powell builds around a piano-driven main theme.  This aspect of the score is quickly introduced during the first cue of the score portion of the soundtrack entitled “Meet Bolt”.  Powell also provides a fun, vaguely Godfather-inspired  theme for Mittens the cat, which is introduced in the cue “Meet Mittens”.  Other parts of the score have a bit more of a rural, country-inspired feel.

The other key aspect of the score is the very fast-paced, action music that is principally featured in the title character’s super-hero type TV series within the movie.  For these sequences, Powell provides an edgy, heavily synthesizer driven score.  On the soundtrack album, these cues feel a bit out of step with the rest of the score, although they fit perfectly in those sequences in the film.  This aspect of the score is heard early on with “Bolt Transforms” and “Scooter Chase” and Powell does occasionally re-introduce some of the TV series action music during appropriate, action-oriented sections of the main storyline.

Born Free

Born Free (John Barry, 1966): Outside of his James Bond songs, the title song from Born Free is almost certainly the most recognizable and familiar composition of John Barry’s career.  The Matt Monro recording of the song (which features lyrics by Don Black) was a big hit and  became Monro’s signature song.  A cover version by Roger Williams was also a top-10 hit.

The title song is the best remembered aspect of the score and its melody is the dominant theme.  Like the song, the score is very lush and romantic and extremely melodic.  Fitting the family-oriented adventure film, the score has a definite playful quality to it and Barry also occasionally introduces some bits and pieces of African styling, such as some of the use of percussion in the cue “Elsa at Play”.  Some slightly darker tones come into play in “The Death of Pati”, while still maintaining the overall style of the score.

For the 1966 soundtrack album, Barry conducted a re-recording of the score’s highlights.  This re-recording plus the Monro version of the song runs just under 40 minutes in length.  The soundtrack album was released on CD by Film Score Monthly in 2004 in a, rare for the label, non limited-edition that was widely distributed to stores.  The CD doesn’t contain any additional music (or the original film tracks), but it is a solid representation of the score.

Born on the Fourth of July

Born on the Fourth of July (John Williams and Various artists, 1989): This film featured John Williams first of the three scores (preceding JFK and Nixon) that he composed for director Oliver Stone.  Those scores were among the darkest and most somber that Williams composed.  This means that they weren’t among the most accessible to listen to separately from the films, but the scores were exceptionally effective within the films.  The Born on the Fourth of July score isn’t one that I return to very often, but it is a very impressive, serious composition that should be a part of any serious film music collection.

The soundtrack album for Born on the Fourth of July is a mix of a song and score album.  The film used contemporary to the era music pretty extensively to help establish the late 60s/early 70s setting and, particularly, the scenes involving the Vietnam War protest groups and the general counterculture of the era.  The album opens with cover versions of Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall” by Edie Brickell & the New Bohemians” and John Fogerty’s  “Born On the Bayou” recorded by The Broken Homes.  Both of these were recorded for the film.

The rest of the songs were original artists versions of “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison, “American Pie” by Don Mclean, “My Girl” by The Temptations, “Soldier Boy” by The Shirelles, “Venus” by Frankie Avalon, and  the familiar choral version of Henry Mancini’s “Moon River”.  All are good songs, of course, but they are also very widely available from other sources and it would have been vastly preferable to have had more of the score instead.

The score portion of the album opens with “Prologue”, a distinguished and somber theme for solo trumpet, extremely well performed by former Boston Pops lead trumpeter Tim Morrison, a frequent Williams collaborator.  This immediately establishes the very serious mood of the score.  This theme is re-visited quite a bit during the rest of the score cues and Morrison’s solo trumpet is also utilized to perform other themes within the score.

During the second cue, “The Early Days, Massapequa, 1957”, Williams establishes the other primary theme of the score, which is a fairly romantic Americana theme that reflects the all-American, small town origins of the film’s central character.  As the score progresses, this theme is re-visited frequently, but with darker, more downbeat shadings as the film’s very serious story arc plays out.  This is especially true of the last couple cues of the album, which score the last parts of the film after the injured main character has returned home from the war.  Especially effective is Williams use of a bit of a pop beat under the trumpet performance of his Americana theme during “Homecoming”, with a revisit of the “Prologue” theme interrupting it, causing a fairly abrupt shift from optimism to sadness.

The soundtrack also includes a couple cues that underscore the film’s war sequences.  The first of these, “The Shooting of Wilson” is mostly very dissonant in sound with harsh strings and bursts of percussion and brass underlining the tension and pain of the war.  It is the most difficult cue on the album to listen to, although it is still very expertly composed.  The cue ends with repeats of the score’s two main themes, providing a sort of release.  The second war cue, “Cua Viet River, Vietnam, 1968” is more melodic and interweaves more of the main themes, but in a very dark and foreboding style.  Williams’ use of vocal whispering (with unrecognizable words) is a particularly unsettling element of this cue.

Williams’ score only takes up about 25 minutes on the album, so this is obviously a very prime candidate for an expanded release.  Not counting Williams (mostly early) scores that have never been released outside of their films at all, this is almost certainly his most under-represented score out there.  The album does hit the top highlights of the score giving a solid taste for it, but there definitely is a need for more of it to be made available.

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