May Soundtrack Picks

By • May 28, 2013

Soundtrack Picks: ‘WILLARD‘ IS THE TOP PICK FOR MAY, 2013

Also worth picking up AT ANY PRICE, BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO, DRESSED TO KILL, FIRE AND ICE, THE ICEMAN, LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN, MUD, PAIN & GAIN, THE SALAMANDER and TO THE WONDER


To Purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the CD Cover

THE TOP PICKS

1) DRESSED TO KILL / PASSION

       

Price: $19.99

What is it?:
Filmmaker Brian De Palma couldn’t have asked for a better composer to assist in his stylish Alfred Hitchcock dress-ups for “Sisters” and “Obsession” than the composer the Master of Suspense did wrong with “Torn Curtain.” After Bernard Herrmann’s passing, a talented Italian named Pino Donaggio, who’d thrilled with the right musical stuff whilst pursuing “Don’t Look Now’s” killer dwarf about Venice, stepped into the maestro’s music shoes to perfectly replicate Herrmann’s identity in a way that would make Kim Novak jealous. Of the De Palma-Donaggio collaborations that included “Carrie,” “Body Double,” “Blow Out” and “Raising Cain,” none reached the stimulating copycat perfection of “Dressed To Kill,” an exhilarating retread of “Psycho” that took Hitchcock’s taste for deviancy to bloody, and sexual heights undreamed of by that auteur. Now Intrada has raided Donaggio’s closet to discover all his masterpiece’s black-suited wardrobe for an album that finally reveals all when it comes to showing just how visual a score can be as a storytelling device, especially when put into the hands of an homage-obsessed filmmaker who wasn’t afraid to let a soundtrack have its way for now-unthinkable stretches of screen time.

Why should you buy it?:
Much like the truly hot shower that opens “Dressed To Kill,” Donaggio’s score is all about steamy passion, from its luxuriant lullabye-like theme to cooing female voices. But what’s so affecting about Donaggio’s score is how well it penetrates its silken flesh to get inside of its temporarily leading lady’s mind. “The Museum” remains one of the great bravura score-only pieces in cinema, turning a cat-and-wolf pursuit at MOMA into an emotional progression from hunger to despair and anguished suspense, finally paying off in a orgiastic climax. But Donaggio’s score is also the ultimate moral arbiter, crying brass, pounding drums and very familiar violin slashes gleefully unleashing payback from venereal disease to a straight razor. “Dressed To Kill” remains incredibly melodic, its bells, vibes and delicate pianos all contributing to the lushest score ever composed for then graphically shocking material that made this 1980 picture the gateway to a new era of anything-goes suspense. Yet De Palma’s excellent taste, especially when it came to music, is all about elegance over crudity, allowing for a score that’s just as gorgeous whether its stroking skin or rending it. Having the complete, resplendent-sounding score only makes the experience all the more luxuriously sinister, with particularly notable additions being the tick-tock tension of a camera spying on a suspect psychologist, and the beyond erotic vibes of its lingerie-clad hooker’s storytelling, the music’s sensuality enough to bring a raise out of any man, or unleash the killer woman within.

Extra Special:
While Ryuichi Sakamoto did a terrific job for De Palma’s last erotic thriller “Femme Fatale,” the director has finally reunited with Donaggio after 20 years for “Passion,” a far saucier remake of the sedate French thriller “Love Crime.” With the emphasis on boardroom-cum-bedroom rivalry, Donaggio takes a more cunningly playful tone with a sometimes-romping orchestra, chamber music and jazz-disco funk before unleashing a brooding, but as always-lush catfight. Elements like lethal electric percussion, and a sultry give “Passion” a throwback feel that brings to mind “Body Double,” while the seven-minute “Journey Through A Nightmare” is more than reminiscent of “Museum’s” tense, trembling motions, if far more sinisterly emphatic. Far more Donaggio than Herrmann, “Passion” is about murderous anticipation as opposed to turning on the thematic heat. Sure might be “Dressed To Kill” lite, but the teaming of De Palma and Donaggio is more than reason to celebrate.



2) FIRE AND ICE



Price: $15.95

What is it?: Buysoundtrax has been in the habit of refurbishing many beloved genre scores from the 80s, most recently among them Tangerine Dream’s “Near Dark,” Richard Stone’s “Sundown” and David Whitaker’s “The Sword and the Sorcerer.” But amidst the decade’s particularly beloved sword and sorcery genre, perhaps no score is as savagely majestic, or unsung as William Kraft’s rippingly symphonic work for 1983s “Fire and Ice.” Ralph Bakshi took his passion for live action-to-animation rotoscoping that he’d begun on “Wizards” to its most wonderfully sexist extremes for this collaboration with Frank Frazetta, a he-man artist who’d turned his visions of barely-clad barbarians and princess into fine art. While this enjoyably clichéd picture would basically be loincloth fiesta of blood and boobage, Kraft would add significant musical weight to the proceedings with a score that can proudly stand upright with Jerry Goldsmith’s “Planet of the Apes” as a bravura exercise in musical primitivism.

Why you should buy it?:
Starting off with the kind of wonderfully swaggering theme that spells out the sword-wielding stuff of legends, Kraft swiftly leaps into the man-ape jungle with Stravinsky-esque savagery, modernistic brass effects battling it out with jagged strings for a feeling that’s pure, unkempt muscle-on-muscle. Yet this “American impressionist’s” approach is always melodically bold for all of its energetic anger, not only conveying some violent time-lost land but also more knightly nobility. Kraft also hears beyond his brawny orchestral weapons and charging military rhythms to bring in unexpected instruments like the piano, conveying a true sense of lithe beauty. While “Fire” might not have had the budget of “Lord of Rings,” one can also hear the mythmaking impressionism that composer Leonard Rosenman gave to Bakshi’s most ambitious animated fantasy. Both are after the same clanging, roaring sense of grandeur, but its “Fire” that just might win with the sheer, often terrifying and exhilarating musical force on hand that can heroically smite any man-ape, or musical approximation as one.

Extra Special:
The robust playing of a Hollywood studio orchestra and the sometimes surprisingly pastoral orchestrations of Angela Morley (composer of “Watership Down”) give a tremendous vitality to “Fire and Ice,” which makes it just a bit sad that this would be Kraft’s scoring swan song before moving onto a career conducting for such films as “Dead Again” and “Carlito’s Way.” But as a testament to all things great from an era where swaggering scores like “Conan the Barbarian,” “Krull” and “Clash of the Titans” warred with each other to create the greatest impact on the imaginations of their breast and sword-obsessed teen viewers, “Fire and Ice” stands more than ever as an unsung masterwork in the genre for a composer who should have done way more work. Buysoundtrax’s nicely designed, illustration-filled booklet has Randall D. Larson’s extensive liner notes (including a great new interview with Kraft) pay due piety before “Fire’s” blazingly percussive altar to all things magical, nubile and blood-lusting, socking its elements across in a manner at once pubescent and sophisticated, much like the combined spell of the otherworldly Brooklynites Bakshi and Frazetta.



3) MUD



Price: $9.49

What Is It?: The poetic byways of American Gothic have proven to be musical streets of gold for David Wingo, particularly when casting an ethereal, acoustical spell from the urban youth of “George Washington” to the complicated small town relationships of “All the Real Girls” and “Snow Angels” to the travelling musical salesmen employed by “The Great World of Sound.” One especially promising filmmaker to explore such avenues is Jeff Nichols, whose “Twilight Zone”-ish fable “Take Shelter” allowed Wingo to compose a beautifully strange score for one man’s seeming mental breakdown amidst his farming community. Now Nichols takes another affectively unique rural turn to the boy’s life of the south, where two youths encounter the violence and despair of the adult world in the personage of “Mud.” Wingo once again creates a sonically unique world that captures possibility and despair, as heard with a striking combination of ethereal strings and acoustics- a rural sound that takes on a much bigger feel.

Why You Should Buy It:
We’ve come a long way since adolescent awakening was played with the tender poignance of Elmer Bernstein’s “To Kill A Mockingbird.” But in their own impressive ways, Nichol’s poetically visceral filmmaking, and Wingo’s alternative score capture that same classic feeling. With water being a major metaphor in “Mud,” Wingo creates long, beautifully floating themes that meld strings and strumming guitar, at once grounding the score in the hard-living river way of life while reflecting a bigger, danger-fraught existence outside of it. Blues cast an atmospheric spell with ethereal electronics as their backing, Cajun violins and percussion sounds rustically weathered, while menacing percussion hits the violence that’s waiting to shatter its kids’ innocence. Wingo’s melodically transfixing approach grows with suspense as the inevitable emotional and physical showdown drifts closer, the score becoming all the more haunting. To think of “Mud” as being scored by Ry Cooder on an acid trip might be the highest compliment I could play to Wingo’s dream-like sound, as conjured under a southern sky.

Extra Special:
The more straight-up, down home numbers are provided by Dirty Three, a group whose powerful, driving guitars bring the raw energy of Explosions in the Sky to mind, while Lucero provides the longing country blues of “Take You Away” and a honkytonk groove for “Everything You Need,” numbers that solidly ground Wingo’s dream-like musings.



4) PAIN & GAIN



Price: $10.00


What Is It?:
Michael Bay’s career has been based on brain-frying excess, mainlining images of sweaty biceps, barely-fitting bikinis and joyful violence upon the popcorn eating masses. In the process, he’s encouraged his composers to pump the volume to 11 with rampaging walls of muscular rock-fueled orchestras. But where Bay has often been righteously lambasted for being lame-brained in his stylistic choices, the multiplex king now reveals his over-the-top fetishes as the ultimate act of artistic subversion as he plays the amped energy of murderous adrenalin junkies in “Pain & Gain,” and in the process encourages his musical confidant Steve Jablonsky to deliver his most interesting, and dare I say intellectual score done for the filmmaker.

Why You Should Buy It?:
“Pumping Iron” by way of “Fargo” best describes this comedy of appalling errors. But rather than outrightly going for humor, Jablonsky mostly hears the optimistic groove inside of its deluded weightlifters’ heads. Eschewing an orchestra for this score’s “Gain,” Jablonsky ultra-cool rhythmic melange is like the greatest mash-up ever of Harold Faltermeyer, Giorgio Moroder, U2 and Tangerine Dream, capturing the latter’s ethereal, percussive vibe that made such an impression when Tom Cruise went rogue to capture the American Dream in “Risky Business.” Except here it involves kidnapping and killing, giving Jablonsky’s vibe a distinctly dark undercurrent for all of its seeming brightness. Better yet, Jablonsky gives “Pain’s” electro-rock patter a distinctly “off” quality to reflect the increasing amount of drugs its deluded characters inhale and inject- until by the end the joy juice is nearly sucked out of the score, resulting in a wash of creepily grooving music that befits the nasty, true-crime story that “Pain & Gain” truly is.

Extra Special:
While he knows the moves for Bay’s giant killer robots, it’s deadly human idiots that have given Jablonsky his smartest score yet. At once rhythmically rolling down its characters’ sweaty abs while playing the blackness underneath it, “Groove” brings out a whole new level of interesting propulsion for Jablonsky, all in terrific retro service of a director who fully shows he’s anything but a dunderhead with a joyously sadistic he-bitch slap that’s full of sweet musical “Pain.”



5) WILLARD



Price: $19.98


What is it?:
Squeaking, clawing, skittering and doing the polka? These are but some of the musical approximations of being both rat and human screwball that Shirley Walker conjures in her beyond brilliant score for one of the last decade’s most unexpected cult pleasures. As an orchestrator for such macabre Danny Elfman efforts as “Batman Returns” and “Nightbreed,” Shirley Walker got to demonstrate a talent for black humor and eccentric orchestrations, seizing upon her abilities for the “Batman” animated series and the hilariously gore-licious “Final Destination” series. It was that gross-out franchise’s creators Glen Morgan and James Wong who had the brilliant idea of remaking a 1973 thriller about a reject and his best rat into a vehicle for Crispin Glover, an actor who stands as the greatest embodiment of quivering craziness since Peter Lorre.

Why you should buy it?:
If Shirley Walker captured any of her male compatriot’s spirits, then it would be Bernard Herrmann, a composer who knew how to take his horror music wildly over the top to simultaneously scare and delight his listeners. Here, that spirit of serious mischievousness is Ben to Walker’s Willard for a score that’s pure Grand Guignol. The idea of putting together the largest assemblage of accordionists for a film score is batshit brilliance itself (and a sight to behold on the film’s DVD), immediately cueing the audience in to the film’s twisted “yuck” factor. Yet it’s a huge credit to Walker that “Willard” relishes in its fun without being goofy about it, especially as the pounding orchestra reveals that this score will indeed have sharp teeth. What’s better is the stunning wealth of themes to be had, equally rivaling the number of leitmotifs that Herrmann could pack into his work. Walker varies her themes into a march for rodent soldiers, nursery rhyme rhythms, a motif for a pied-piper flute. Her score uses aching strings to plead sympathy for a misunderstood mama’s boy, or goes for throttling panic with a percussively shredding attack. One senses Herrmann would approve of the pure deviltry of grand mix of evil and empathy.

Extra Special:
Shirley Walker might sadly be gone, but the wonderfully twisted spirit that distinguishes her horror scoring ability at its peak comes to full, skittering life in La La Land’s album, featuring an excellent dissection of Walker’s twisted intentions in John Takis’ liner notes. Indeed, Walker couldn’t have asked for more appreciative valentine to her best score, whose resplendent accordions are sure to bring a smile with the sheer, audacious brilliance that remains “Willard.”


ALSO FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:


. AFRICA

Along with their “Dr. Who” soundtracks, Silva Screen has seemingly cornered the world market on the music of BBC nature documentaries. Where some of these entries dumbed down animal behavior into the stuff of Carl Stalling antics amidst more noble-minded orchestral grandeur, “Africa’s” vast, stylistic continent shows why this is the land mass where two-legged intelligence began. Taking on thee task of chronicling every life form and landscape is Sarah Class, a composer whose documentary-filled resume understandably landed her the job with the likes of “Mystery of the Wolf” and “The Meerkats.” There’s an exceptional level of writing, and elemental power to Class’ achievement. Not only does she deliver on the expected symphonic sweep and drum percussion that conjures “Lion King”-like expectations, but Class also digs far deeper into the likes of voice, guitar, empathetic violin, pianos and haunting electronics, with each selection working as its own musical entity. Class has gone beyond “Africa” to represent a musical worldview here, as capable of enchantment as it is fearsome wildness. Even small cases of the cutesies don’t distract as the ethno-beat combines with more elegant orchestral forces to capture the imagination. It’s a musical mix of the imagination that nature documentaries unleash in their best composters, and the evocation of the real world that make “Africa” into a dazzling and evocatively epic musical journey.



. AT ANY PRICE

Another spellbinding rocker who found himself in the heartland, Dickon Hinchliffe saw his band Tindersticks turn their alt sound to such uniquely percussive works as “Nenette and Boni” and “Trouble Every Day,” all before going solo with such distinctive works that embodied everything from cold-blooded murder in the first “Red Riding” mystery to sweetly accessible romance in “Last Chance Harvey” and the sympathetic soul of an abused ape in “Project Nimh.” Yet this Englishman seems to be best at home in the acoustic badlands of “Winter’s Bone,” “Rampart” and “The Texas Killing Fields.” Though Hinchliffe’s approach is often spare, it speaks volumes for moral rot, perhaps no more so than “At Any Price.” Amber waves of grain fill this morality tale of a seed salesman and his disaffected stock car racing son, their seething anger and familial discord given voice through Hinchliffe’s raw, meditative chords. Employing muted strings and feedback to his spare, rhythmic approach, “Price” doesn’t so much conjure the heartland as it does a dusty western ghost town, inevitably building to a showdown that’s about sinking to new moral lows as opposed to unleashing bullets. Evoking a sound that recalls Sonic Youth’s woefully unsung score to “Made In USA,” Hinchliffe’s borderline grunge rock potently tastes emotional ashes amidst our land of plenty, a place used to soaring Copeland-isms now turned to the raw, stripped-down angst of youths, and adults looking to get out.


BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO

Seldom has a movie gotten everything technically right, yet ended up so completely wrong as the Giallo homage “Berberian Sound Studio,” which sets up an Italian mixing facility as the perfect sound stage for murder, yet forgets to have anything happpen during its beautifully done, deadly dull progression of an engineer’s mental unravelling. But all of that being said, Broadcast’s score manages to be “Berbarian’s” single most successful salute to this suspenseful Neopolitain style, the perfect accompaniment to create a way better movie in one’s own mind. While Broadcast’s pitch-perfect work could easily play over any classic Dario Argento film like “Deep Red” and “Inferno,” it’s one thing to do a spot-on replication, and another entirely to create an original homage. They’ve accomplished it here in high style with the rock guitar, flutes, harpsichords, electric organs, progressive keyboards and spellcasting female voices that made up the inimitable sound of such rock-inspired composers as Goblin and Fabio Frizzi. Composed of short, eerily intense cues, Broadcast casts a sinisterly beautiful spider’s web of haunting melodies, hypnotically conjuring the echoing, Baroque-lullaby atmosphere that made this distinctive movie genre as elegant as it was brutal. “Berbarian” is at once a thrillingly fastidious throwback, and a vital return to what’s arguably horror scoring’s most innovative period, albeit a dubbed one. This sum total salute doesn’t disappoint on the end either, containing enough gargling, gibbering and incanting vocal effects to freak the neighbors out as the music enchants them into dark corridors where sharp instruments lurk.


. DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES

While their cinematic relationship became popular through the slapstick destruction of the “Pink Panther” series, the collaboration between composer Henry Mancini and filmmaker Blake Edwards could yield far more serious stuff, complete with a memorable theme song and champagne jazziness. While 1961s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” put a shot of bittersweetness into its party girl antics, 1962s “Days of Wine and Roses” was anything but a happy look at the lush life. Though not exactly hitting the rat-in-the-wall DT’s of “The Lost Weekend,” Edward’s look at two alkis’ self-destructive relationship was fairly groundbreaking in a developing era of hard-hitting “message” pictures. However, Edwards and Mancini were smart enough not to completely serve it up bleak. “Days’” softly swinging jazz numbers serve as the wry counterpoint for the deceptive good time binges. Collaborating with “Moon River” lyricist Johnny Mercer to the tune of another Best Song Oscar, “Days of Wine and Roses” has a longing catchiness to it, one capable of turning to gut-ripping anguish in Mancini’s instrumental hands. With Universal creature features giving the composer his real first dramatic workout, Mancini’s darkness is about monstrous human behavior, namely enabling one’s significant other, only to leave them in their own ruins. Sure that “Roses” tune is wistfully unforgettable, but it’s how Mancini leads it into down unbearable paths for lonely strings, somber pianos and boozy horns that give “Roses” its devastating potency. Intrada’s done right with this long-awaited masterpiece, its sound still as wistfully potent as ever, with enough cocktail-ready numbers to fill out the kind of light listening albums Mancini used to arrange his work for (though curiously “Roses” never got any kind of soundtrack album until now). “Days of Wine and Roses” manages to contain both the effervescent and hard stuff the composer was best at – Mancini straight up. Now that Intrada’s put this and “Charade” out, what I wouldn’t give for a fix of the true scores to “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “Two For the Road” while the label’s on a classic Mancini binge.



. THE ICEMAN

Being married to the mob is anything but romantic, especially when you’re a hitman in Ariel Vroman’s chillingly effective crime drama, made all the more disturbing by the fact that it’s based on the exploits of prolific contract killer Richard Kuklinski. Vroman’s kept it in the creative family by hiring fellow Israeli composer, and true murder follower Haim Mazar, who skillfully evades the jazzily orchestral Cosa Nostra clichés that would have made this period-spanning film nostalgically hollow. Dealing with a Polish outsider to the organization, not to mention a guy who has a hard time holding onto his soul, Mazar goes for the dramatic jugular with this subtly suspenseful, and achingly sad soundtrack that compares well to such pulsating crime scores as “The Town.” Creating a feeling of timelessness through his skilled combination of strings and piercing, grinding, metallic samples, Mazar captures the pained, conflicted soul of an antihero beyond measure, ratcheting up a feeling of musical discomfort that must be akin to some unlucky guy being taken for his last ride, cold, ghostly electronics becoming the chill of the hairs rising on the victim’s neck before the garrote wraps around it. Yet there’s real emotional humanity to Mazar’s wet work, an often-poetic sense of tragedy that might not ask you to sympathize with Kosinski, but at the least to try and hear him as a truly screwed up human being beyond his horrific actions. It’s one of the many levels that this darkly mesmerizing score hits, more than proving that newcomer Mazar deserves to be a Hollywood made man.



. KILLER FORCE / THE CORRUPT ONES (500 Edition)

Sure they might release such elegantly prestigious Euro scores as Georges Delerue’s “The Conformist” and Philippe Rombi’s “War of the Buttons.” But Music Box Records is perhaps even more fun when handle kitschily entertaining works by such composers us Yanks have never heard of like Michael Magne’s “Emmanuel 4” and Serge Franklin’s “Le Grand Pardon.” Now of particular, disco-ish delight is George Garvarentz’s score to 1976s “Killer Force” (aka “The Diamond Mercenaries”), one of those all-star Anglo thrillers that provided fun South African vacations to such Americans as Telly Savalas, Peter Fonda and O.J. Simpson, here ripping off some precious gems. Rather than a hard-edged approach, Garvarentz plays the robbery with a fun, funky groove more befitting Afrikaners hustling beneath a glittering ball. Wah-wah guitar, rocking leisure suit grooves and lush strings do the job in fun style, sort of a pseudo-Shagadelic blend of Lalo Schifrin 60s crime jazz meeting “The Love Boat,” along with some truly meaningful symphonic romance, ably assisted by Garvarentz’s famed French songwriting friend Charles Aznavour. Next up on the disc is Garvarentz’s Hong Kong spy heist score to 1967s “The Corrupt Ones,” a way nuttier, and far more “serious” soundtrack led off by the groovy title song by Dusty Springfield. The alternately pouncing and shrieking orchestra suggests more of a horror film than a “Eurospy” pairing of Robert Stack and Elke Sommer, its portentousness going to the twilight zone with the ooo-wee-ooo inclusion of a particularly piercing Theremin that brings to mind the musical exclamation points in “High Anxiety.” Stormy suspense mingles with 60s beat swing and sultry brass, along with some goofy Orientalisms. But make no mistake that like “Killer Force,” “The Corrupt Ones” shows off Garvarentz as a composer with a great sense of knowing fun, not to mention pop drama. And thanks to Music Box’s release, his name is now on my map when it comes to seeking out some of the nuttier crime-suspense scores that swung for American stars abroad.



. LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN

Kritzerland has become the most passionate soundtrack label when it comes to releasing soundtracks from Hollywood’s golden age – the kind of symphonically lush studio system scoring arguably best personified by Alfred Newman. While their magnificent re-mastering of Newman’s “How Green Was My Valley” will play to more sentimental tastes, fans who appreciate Newman’s less-utilized, if just as formidable talent for film noir will get their Technicolor kicks out of 1947s “Leave Her To Heaven,” in which Gene Tierney, the object of a detective’s obsession in ”Laura” (whose iconic David Raksin score was just an instant Kritzerland sell-out) gets to turn the tables by playing a proto-Glenn Close whose nearly incestuous fatal attraction snares Cornel Wilde. Newman’s towering, pounding theme is all about wantonness, its sweet side quickly giving way to ominous suspense that won’t be denied. A master of all genres, Newman’s approach here is anything but saintly, (if not quite as brooding as his peer Bernard Herrmann), tumultuously spelling out the kind of unkempt sexual desire the production code wasn’t about to show you- even if a chorally moralistic happy ending might be in store for the big fade-out. While “Leave’s” lust might not have engendered a jazzy approach in its powerhouse twelve minutes, this album’s accompanying Newman score for 1951s “Take Care of My Little Girl” has nostalgic swing tunes to spare, along with a generally affectionate, bell-ringing symphonic tone for a young woman who discovers that her new life in a bucolic college can also be a hornet’s nest of WASP sorority nastiness. As always, Newman comes up with a memorable theme, here the sweet, string-driven sound of a girl’s unshakeable moxie in the face of cattiness. This is a “Girl” that not only resonates with a good heart, but whose poignant violins and uplifting orchestrations could easily serve as the instrumental score for some MGM musical, which is exactly the kind of touching, unabashedly melodic quality that makes the golden age such a worthwhile place for Kritzerland to keep on mining.



. THE SALAMANDER

An entertaining, obscure 1981 political thriller that stands as one of the nuttier pictures that Jerry Goldsmith scored is now just as remarkable for becoming one of the best, and boisterously re-performed soundtracks that the legendary composer has gotten. That’s thanks to the always-excellent triple-threat of album producer James Fitzpatrick, conductor Nic Raine and the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus, who follow up their recent take on Goldsmith’s “Hour of the Gun” with an album that will completely blow fans away. This musical masterwork accompanied Franco Nero as a hapless Italian police whose investigation into a series of assassinations gets him into a world of hurt (including one especially hilariously homoerotic escape after a torture session). But leave it to Goldsmith to play this convoluted plot with all the epic importance he’d had given to ferreting out JFK’s killer. “The Salamander’s” formidable quality perhaps could be attested to Goldsmith having recently come off the cosmic score for the first “Star Trek” movie, a rousing sense of symphonic gravitas that fills this movie’s grandly oppressive theme. Goldsmith’s search through the corridors of corrupt power yield chilling strings, riveting tension, militaristic darkness and the kind of pounding, go-for-broke staccato chase music that’s pure Goldsmith action delight. When it comes to “The Salamander’s” setting, the composer employs accordions and strings for a wistful love theme, playing the romance that could be if only political murders didn’t get in the way. While this oft-requested score not have yielded the original tapes, you’d be as fooled as the complacent Italian public by the spot-on performance, avoiding any sense of echo to sound exactly as if you were listening to the original sessions. It’s almost amazing to think that Goldsmith specialist Leigh Phillips replicated this music by ear from watching the DVD. What’s he’s provided for Prague to play bursts with the brassily suspenseful muscle and lush strings that reveal “The Salamander’s” ultimate secret as being a classic in Goldsmith’s fiercely majestic cannon.


SPARTACUS: WAR OF THE DAMNED

After scoring Starz’s “Spartacus” series and its spin-offs, Joseph LoDuca reaches the saga’s climax with a masterful, musical blow for freedom that does the saga, and the spirit of its late star Andy Whitfield worthy with “War of the Damned.” While the composer’s had plenty of experience in the sword-and-sandle arena from his days spent with Hercules and Xena (not to mention a Dark Ages Ash), the amped up violence and sex of this Starz spin has required even more musical muscle, and daring from the composer. Lo Duca’s final battle is impressively epic, pouring on gigantic orchestral themes that befit the stuff of historical legend, yet making the rebel relatably modern with a rock and roll edge, electric guitars and twisted samples seamlessly part of more gallant strings and brass. Period spectacle is provided with the rhythm of Roman instruments, along with heavenly and more gutteral voices. You couldn’t get more different, or angrily raw from the approach that Alex North took for “Spartacus” back in 1960. Yet in his striking mix of old gladitorial school heroism and up-to-the minute metal thrash, Lo Duca’s scoring is very much about the same spirit, one that ultimately transcends from Roman-killing anger to a stirring, symphonic ode for soaring chorus and military percussion. With this immersive, unexpectedly emotional 70-plus minute CD, “War of the Damned” stand as the best work yet for a composer whose spent years immersed in the blood and sand of Starz’s killing pit, a stirring payoff that gets a big thumbs up.



. TO THE WONDER

Mea culpa, but forgive me if I have yet to see Terence Malick’s “To the Wonder,” having been perhaps permanently scared off from his visually striking miasmas after the stupefyingly boring and pretentious movie-as-art instillation that was “Tree of Life.” That being said, the truly wondrous, and always-entrancing score that Hanan Townshend has created for Malick’s latest existential outing just might get me to watch it. As a New Zealand expatriate based in Malick’s Austin digs, Townshend captures a universal feeling of longing in his concert piece-cum-film score, one of those few soundtracks that captures the melodic potential of what “modern” classical music could be in service of an experimental movie. Reflecting on the disintegration of a love affair, Townshend achieves a haunting, striving quality through subtly lush strings and echoing brass, his music reaching for the Wagnerian ideal of pure love, but with a darkness that tells us it this star-crossed couple will inevitably fall to earth. It’s an approach that’s right in synch with Mallick’s use of “Parsifal” among his always-eclectic source choices. Yet unlike Alexandre Desplat’s score to “Tree of Life” (which also featured Townshend’s work), “To the Wonder” is a bit less god-like, even as the eerily dissonant spirit of Gyogy Ligeti gives “To the Wonder” a similar “2001”-esque feel at points. Taken on its own as a pure musical experience, Townshend’s work is a tone poem of the best kind, painting a big picture from the kind of personal experience that elevates bliss, and despair into the stuff of intimate myth. The continuous rapture that Townshend engenders from this lyrically haunting starstuff marks him as a major composer to watch. And perhaps “To the Wonder” as well in my case.


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

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