August Soundtrack Picks
‘EUROPA REPORT’ IS THE TOP PICK FOR AUGUST, 2013
Also worth picking up COPPERHEAD, CROOKED ARROWS, MAD MEN, THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS, THE LEGEND OF KORRA, LOVE IS ALL YOU NEED, THE MUPPET MOVIE, TINKER BELL and RED 2
To purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the CD cover
THE TOP PICKS
1) EUROPA REPORT / CAPRICA
Price: $14.98 / $19.98
What is it?: Seemingly as prolific at composing genre TV scores as NASA had Apollo launches back in the day, Bear McCreary has been blasting off into the terrestrial and space-bound unknown with mixed messages of wonder and dread with every series from “Da Vinci’s Demons” to “Defiance.” But it’s “Europa Report” that just might be his best sci-fi flight, not only representing an auspicious journey into the cinematic firmament where his talent truly belongs, but also the physical start of his the composer’s own Sparks & Shadows label.
Why should you buy it?: Among the many ironies of “Europa Report” is that it’s essentially a “found footage” movie, its trip to moon of Jupiter last visited on screen in “2010” told here via shipboard cameras and televised interviews. Yet unlike practically every other movie in the mostly over-exposed FF genre, nothing about this hugely ambitious movie registers as small screen, especially due to McCreary’s vast-sounding score. Having shown a predilection for Phillip Glass-ian music in his work for the far darker space trek of “Battlestar Galactica,” McCreary really lets his taste for floating melodies shine with a beautiful theme that’s all about the sense of wonder at discovering new life. Yet underneath this languorously memorable theme is an insistent electronic pulse, promising that things will go amiss upon landing. It’s this haunting mixture of hope and dread that that fills “Europa Report.” McCreary lets his theme drift like the cosmic winds, or plays it on a solo piano, reaching transcendence as Raya Yarbrough’s voice wraps about the lush orchestra’s discovery of water. But ultimately, it’s what lies beneath the ice that propels “Europa.” Eerie electronics, tap-tap percussion and an urgently rhythmic orchestra tell us that it’s far from friendly, ratcheting up the ticking clock suspense, but thankfully without tipping the music into outright alien horror territory. McCreary understands that tragedy comes with the job, but is somehow worth it, an ultimate finding that lets him bring a noble, and moving emotional component to this exceptional score, and film, that truly warrants its A.
Extra Special: Not nearly as successful as this stellar “Report,” and most likely because it was “Caprica”-bound, this season-long lived SyFy prequel to “Battlestar Galactica” was an often frustrating mix of sex, politics, religious fanaticism and virtual reality that was neither Cylon fish or fowl. But one major thing that “Caprica” had going for it was Bear McCreary’s music, which now gets released via La La Land on a two-CD set. The rebooted “Galactica” saga benefitted by having the composer as its voice through every iteration, for which McCreary never failed to make different tweaks – yet while making sure all of the scores could be heard as playing in the same Earth-seeking, musical universe. If anything, his “Caprica” work stood out for being orchestrally sleeker, as well as hipper for its teen alt. reality vixens. Flutes, pianos and an overall brooding feel fill “Caprica,” conveying the unlikable characters’ twisted, yet simmering neuroses, especially when it came to old-time anti-robot religion. It’s this often beautiful, theme-drenched organic approach that makes “Caprica” so mesmerizing, once again showing off Glass-ian rhythms, Yarborough’s haunting voice and melancholy instrumental solos, all while ethnic percussion paints the shadows of the Cylon Gotterdammerung to come. Likely the last music that McCreary will be writing for one of the most impressive musical sagas in genre TV history, “Caprica” provides a memorable musical capper, even if SyFy felt they needed the unfortunately toaster’d Adama prologue “Blood and Chrome” to try and wipe “Caprica’s” taste from fans’ mouths. Here, the pleasure is all in the ears. Perhaps “Caprica’s” national anthem will even get you to stand up and salute McCreary’s accomplishment, let alone the piano props he gives to Stu Phillips for starting the “Galactica” journey on ABC.
What is it?: Subtlety has never been a particular strong suit of Ronald F. Maxwell, a Civil War –centric filmmaker who’s usually painted America’s battle of brother against brother in gigantic strokes- visually, and musically in such epics as “Gettysburg” and “Gods and Generals.” Perhaps that’s what makes Maxwell’s unexpectedly small-scale look at our nation’s most tragically divisive event so effective, turning a small town in upstate New York into the war at home between those who want to take on The South, and the pacifist “copperheads.” But the true victory goes to composer Laurent Eyquem, who chooses to lay down a potential symphonic arsenal in favor of a lyrically soothing, but no less emotional orchestral approach
Why you should buy it?: Right from the start of “Copperhead’s” gently flowing music, you can tell that Eyquem hails from the richly harmonic country that produced the likes of such superb melodists as Georges Delerue and Alexandre Desplat, a tradition that Eyquem impressively follows, but with a feeling that’s homegrown America. As opposed to the sounds of conflicted patriotism, Eyquem’s strikingly thematic score sounds like it was plowed from the verdant farm fields and timberlands that its characters work. It’s lush in the bucolic sense of the word, summoning a powerfully ”restrained” sense of time and place, whether through strings, fiddle or a solo piano that brings a classical element as well to the score. While there are also some rousing Aaron Copland-esque bits, “Copperhead” is mostly about the feelings of familial betrayal for what seems like it will be a Romeo and Juliet story, but ends up in a deeper, moving place. Thankfully, Eyquem doesn’t push the music into tear-jerking pathos, choosing to play the movie’s most heart-rending moment as simply as possible. For a film that’s exceptionally shot, if a bit long in the tooth in terms of running time and some spotty acting, Eyquem’s exceptionally well-played score elevates “Copperhead” further with production and performance gloss that sink in the tragic, but ultimately hopeful message of a country that would be better if everyone could just get along.
Extra Special: Marcus Bentley’s lullabye-like performance of Stephen Foster’s “Slumber My Darling” provides just the right, tender note to end “Copperhead” on, its twinkling electronic gestures and bells nicely getting across the faith-based feeling the infuses Maxwell’s ultimately affecting small window into a far bigger picture.
3) CROOKED ARROWS
What is it?: When nearly all indie soundtracks by relatively unknown composers get put on the digital reservation, it’s nice to have some labels still releasing their work on hardcopy to be discovered by fans with a taste for new talent. While Movie Score Media mostly handles that small score European territory, Perseverance Records is now starting to become a label to check out when it comes to the hopeful Hollywood likes of musicians like Edwin Wendler (“Escape”). But you can’t go more American native than by listening to the score by a paleface named Brian Ralston, who comes out swinging a lacrosse stick with “Crooked Arrows,” successfully netting the vibe of every underdog sports score you’ve ever heard – but with an Indian twist that puts further, fresh vitality into the stand-up-and-cheer musical game.
Why you should buy it?: Few people would even know that lacrosse is an ancient sport practiced for millennia before a westerner ever showed up on our soil – a fact that plays intriguingly into a tribe’s vision quest to against a snobbish private school. To play that battle on the field, as overseen by a co-opted coach re-discovering his ethnic roots, Ralston mixes together American Indian music with the more recently traditional style of western film scoring. As powerfully performed by the Hollywood Studio Symphony Orchestra, Ralston’s richly thematic score is full of the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, music that keeps excellent track of the emotional plays at hand, all with electronic writing for suspense and meditation that’s equally as effective. But it’s the percussive, and wind-borne tradition of American Indian music that really sends “Crooked Arrows” soaring, with drums and winds evoking the game as far more of a contest of honor than scoring points, dutifully avoiding “Indian” music clichés all the while. But just when you might think Ralston’s approach is going to be all noble native, he throws in honkytonk and a heavy metal rock guitar to give the score the thoroughly modern, and rebellious attitude of its young team members who go from zeroes to heroes. It’s this kind of constantly surprising depth and sense of sports adventure that will hopefully let “Crooked Arrows” fly Ralston straight, and deservedly into the big leagues with his terrific score that’s seemingly shot out of from nowhere.
Extra Special: Perhaps the best thing any score can accomplish on its own is being good enough to get you to watch a movie you’d likely never see. Thankfully, “Crooked Arrows” is readily available if you’ve got Netflix Instant, revealing a nifty little movie that just about matches its score, with “Mighty Ducks” director Steve Rash getting an even better star turn from Brandon Routh than his far more lauded appearance in “Superman Returns.” In any case, Perseverance certainly knows the gem of a score they have here, sending smoke signals with everything from a music video to Randall D. Larson’s extensive liner notes that give notice of how big work can be done in the little leagues.
4) THE MORTAL INSTUMENTS: CITY OF BONES
What is it?: As he more than proved with his rambunctious score for “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters,” Atli Orvarsson is a composer who knows how to kill supernatural badness good, a talent no doubt due to his bloodline that flows to an Icelandic culture full of fairy tale demons. Hollywood is also a town that particularly likes to infest itself with creatures, especially when they involve sequel-spanning sagas full of attractive young heroes duking it out with demons for the fate of the universe. All of this makes Orvarsson perfectly equipped for the latest franchise hopeful “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones,” delivering his best score so far as he trades off the enjoyably batshit energy of “Hansel” for a far more classically-oriented musical battle with Satan’s helpers.
Why you should buy it?: Orvarsson’s squarely on the side of the angels with spectacular Latin-themed choral work, their glorious bell ringing voices slaying in tandem with a powerhouse orchestra that puts its own spin on the contemporary effects-driven action sound. Better yet, Orvarsson’s use of religioso string instruments bring out a musical history for just how long this GQ-looking war between heaven and hell has been going on, music that turns Manhattan into an otherworldly place of heaven and hell, as if it the city wasn’t that already. There’s magnificence to his “Mortal Bones,” bringing a sense of wild symphonic rapture to the kind of arena that’s often content to let percussion go its way and let melody be damned.
Extra Special: Imagine “The Omen” as a superhero score, and you’ll get an idea of the mission-from-God fun that “The Mortal Instrument’s” music delivers in spears, knifes and other monster-fighting musical accouterment to thrilling, and holily sumptuous effect. It’s a score that’s been whipped out with the kind of consummate melodic assurance to make you believe a sequel’s pre-ordained, let alone containing hosannahs so cool that you want to know what the heck the chorus is actually singing.
5) FRANZ WAXMAN AT PARAMOUNT (1,000 edition)
What Is It?: While Kritzerland’s exceptional release of Franz Waxman’s “A Place In the Sun” was almost immediately turned into “A Place On Ebay,” fans of the prolific composer can take solace in the label’s three-for-one tribute to “Franz Waxman At Paramount.” The Silesian-born musician was an old school practitioner in the symphonically operatic leitmotif style, bringing it over from the old country with the likes of Korngold and Steiner to create the sound of film scoring. However, Waxman was more arguably stylistically versatile than his peers, a range that’s exceptionally exhibited here.
Why You Should Buy It?: First up is 1954s “Elephant Walk,” wherein Elizabeth Taylor confronts a far more formidably rampaging force than Richard Burton on a bender. A master of swooning romance, Waxman is right in his Ceylon element as he creates Asian rhythms about his star royalty, his ravishing theme creating an exotic, and imperious sense of mystery that captures being the only beautiful European woman within earshot. While there’s also swirling dread as she fights cholera, “Walk’s” truly monstrous cue is reserved for its climactic elephant rampage, a showcase of lumbering, monstrous strings and shrill brass that convey the magnificent animals’ sheer weight and fury as they plow through the movie’s sets. Listening to “The Elephant Stampede,” you’re reminded that this is also the guy who also scored Frankenstein’s monster and Mr. Hyde. This cue is in good, fearful company with the album’s second offering of 1953s 1787-set “Botany Bay,” where Alan Ladd’s unjustly accused Yank finds himself being transported by a Bligh-like captain to the penal colony hell of Hollywood backlot Australia. Much physical and mental punishment follows, giving Waxman the opportunity to savor every lash and drum roll of a keelhauling and the cat o’ nine tails treatment. “Botany Bay” is one of the Waxman’s darkest scores, probably as close to Bernhard Herrmann as he got with his relentlessly brooding orchestra and its desperate attempts at escape, thought there’s some turbulent, pirate-worthy seafaring music to be had on this voyage of the damned.
Extra Special: Where “Elephant Walk” and “Botany Bay” have a surfeit of notes, 1953s “Stalag 17” uses a morbidly twisted, march version of “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” to contrast the song’s patriotic determination with the Nazi prison-bound lot of a bunch of American G.I.’s. Though relatively brief, Waxman’s spare use of drums and percussion sounds volumes for the cat and mouse game played between William Holden’s POW and a sneaky Bundist, conveying director Billy Wilder’s sense of gallows humor as well, especially as Italian music joins in the music’s slow, pounding progression. The “Colonel Bogey” march that greeted Holden on the River Kwai was far less self-consciously effusive, even when “Johnny” gets to satirically sound off in full, ever-speedier band formation (the tune wouldn’t get such a darkly fun workout until Michael Kamen used it to pull off a bank robbery in “Die Hard With A Vengeance”). As a bonus, an even more furiously biting alternate title of “Johnny” is offered on this thrilling Waxman triptych, whose sound quality is impressively uniform, especially given how these movies’ surviving score cues have been rounded up with a mix of stereo and mono tracks.
ALSO FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:
. THE CELESTINE PROPHECY
You don’t have to be a believer in James Redfield’s book to hear the spiritual wonder conjured by Nuno Malo’s score for this 2006 cinematic adaptation, whose blissful musical insights finally gets a well-deserved release from Movie Score Media. For a story about a religious sense of wonder, as gained from a Peruvian manuscript, the Portuguese-born composer creates a majestic soundscape of the orchestra, Latin American instruments and ethereal samples that will likely convert anyone to the talent at hand. Calling on the spirit of Thomas Newman with his enveloping themes for strings, solo piano, lyrical guitar and gossamer electronics, Malo’s score proves itself as an entrancing listen without turning its message into hard-sell emotional manipulation. Instead, “The Celestine Prophecy” goes with the always-melodic energy flow, even bringing impedingly explosive tragedy in to powerful effect. By the time we get to the choral hosannahs of “Heaven,” the soaring musical, the composer’s sense of transcendence has truly been earned. With “The Celestine Prophecy,” Nuno Malo does an exceptional job of preaching his beautifully symphonic gospel to the Peruvian mountain.
. DARK SOULS
“The X-Files’” black oil doesn’t have anything on the beyond-dark gunk that the victims of a driller killer vomit up in this Norwegian zombie conspiracy movie (irresistibly called “Zombie Driller Killer” on English shores). The undead’s puke is given especially nefarious weight in the impressive score by Wojciech Golczewski, a mouthful of a composer’s name if there ever was one. But then, Howlin’ Wolf is a label that’s travelled all over this planet for unlikely zombie score goodness, the last time with Imran Ahmad’s terrific score for the South African un-“Dead.” Unnerving terror comes in just as impactfully for this Polish composer, who creates a constant state of dread with gnarled guitar and electronic feedback. Mostly avoid the kind of “Boo!” shock music that’s the language of American horror scoring, Golczewski also shows his talent for simple, but effective melody in the piano theme for a dad who’s understandably distraught about how his recently slaughtered daughter has just happened to come back to life. With this melodic component, “Dark Souls” powerfully walks a razor’s edge between ambience, rage and genuine emotion, the metal guitar and percussive stakes rising as the dad gets to the sci-fi reasons behind the unholy mess that the killers’ victims are leaving. “Dark Souls” has a cool, mesmerizingly sinister sound that’s since landed Golczewski scores for the American thrillers “Munger Road” and “Battleground,” proving that impressively creative horror scoring is its own universal language, especially when the walking dead attack.
. IMOGENE (GIRL MOST LIKELY)
After his rock-acoustical alt. dramedy scores for the youthful tsuris of “The Way Way Back” and “The Spectacular Now,” Rob Simonsen takes on the growing pains of an older generation with Kristen Wiig’s melted-down playwright Imogene. Perhaps it’s because the star hit her own adolescence in the late 80s that the composer ingeniously calls upon synths from that era as a driving musical force for the character to get her act back together. Whatever the reason, the music’s near 12-bit sound is one of the many clever touches for a woman who’s gone over the verge of a nervous breakdown. Taking a more traditional comic approach (a la his co-score with Mychael Danna for “(500) Days of Summer),” Simonsen’s neo-classical use of strings give his work appealing rhythmic energy, while bouncy electronics, backwards samples and magical bells bring out Imogene’s unstable groove. But the nicest touch for what’s ultimately about the reconciliation between an equally out-there mom and daughter is the melodic sympathy that Simonsen grounds this sweetly desperate score with, not only playing Imogene’s weird sense of discovery to be back in New Jersey, And you’re not likely to hear a funnier cue in a score this year than in the lovely piano opening that goes unexpectedly south.
. LOVE IS ALL YOU NEED
Between “Brothers’” suicidal veteran and the murderous delinquent of “In A Better World,” you can’t say that the subject matter in the ongoing, and very rewarding collaboration between composer Johan Soderqvist and filmmaker Susanne Bier has been the stuff of light-hearted comedy. And while the romantic trip to Italy that proves “Love Is All You Need” stems from the stuff of tragedy, listeners will be in for the kind of pleasantly rare detour that this Swedish musician rarely gets to take. You know you’re certainly in different territory with his bandoneon riff on the standard “Amore,” before further letting it’s soon to-be in-love widowers’ hair down with a kitschy cha-cha and an accordion taxi ride. Magic is continually in the musical air as bells, flutes, soft pianos and wistful strings conspire to play Cupid, while once again proving that Italy is a field day for composers who are young at heart. But given that Soderqvist and Bier aren’t ones for syrupy mawkishness, the musical romance at hand goes down with intelligence and just a bit of off-kilter melody, as well as ethereal drama that plays this star-crossed couple’s past losses. However, “Love” isn’t the first time that Soderqvist played in a somewhat lighter tone for Bier, as the album’s inclusion of 1994s “Family Matters” once again offers an alternately whimsical and serious tone as a previously unknowing adoptee seeks out to find his parents. Sounding just as elegantly fun as “Love Is All You Need” in its thematically eccentric use of tango rhythm for the character’s drive from Denmark to Portugal.
. THE LEGEND OF KORRA: ORIGINAL MUSIC FROM BOOK ONE
After having scored the anime-inspired “Last Airbender” cartoon for Nickelodeon (not to mention a “Kung Fu Panda” spin off), Jeremy Zuckerman certainly has the mad elemental-fu skills to take on the channel’s next-gen follow-up “The Legend of Korra,” which now passes the torch from a bald boy to a braided girl. The tone of that hit show has aged up as well here, with adult themes of revolt and sacrifice giving Zuckerman even more of an emotionally fertile playing ground to channel his mastery of fantastical Asian music with. In his seamless mix of Eastern and Western melodies, world-shaking orchestral majesty blends with a battery of Chinese wind and percussion instruments, taking its drama with such utmost seriousness that those listeners not in the cult of “Korra” might think they’ve stumbled onto the score for a sequel to “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon” – at least until the second track when an Erhu flute jams with a Dixieland band. While it’s all well and good to do an epic kung-toon score, it’s these eccentric cues that truly take “The Legend of Korra” into a whole new realm of musical cool, its jazzily ancient takes on Stephen Foster turn-of-the-century pop, Stephan Grapelli violin virtuoso-ism and a swinging Glenn Miller big band making “Korra” into a steampunk soundtrack of the first Asian anime order.
. MAD MEN: ON THE ROCKS
David Carbonara is one composer who knows how to get ahead in business with really trying, segueing from music editor on such movies as “Cop Land” and “Chocolat” to writing ear-catching scores for wacky indies like “Spanking the Monkey” and “The Guru.” But there’s little doubt that no gig has been as sweet in the board room for Carbonara as his job on AMC’s “Mad Men,” where his music has gotten behind the 60s period pitch of admen who are only swank on the outside. While he’s been on the show since its start in 2007, it’s taken until nearly the end of the smash series’ run to finally get out an instrumental album out. There’s no hard sell needed for fans to buy this best-of compilation that goes for the dramatic sell, as opposed to the more obvious bachelor pad sound of the era – not that the cocktail after hours jazz vibe doesn’t inflect many of the cuts on this album, from hot nightclub jams and playfully seductive grooves to the Latin exotica of the Conga and Bossa Nova. But Carbonara’s musical marketing tool is for getting inside the heads of guys who lie for a living, with a subtle, but striking sense of poignancy. “Mad Men’s” well-blended martini of emotion, and NYC nostalgia goes down smooth, with feeling. And there’s certainly enough Carbonara in the bar for another score shot of “Mad Men” given this exceptional pitch.
. THE MUPPET MOVIE
With all respect to the “Flight of the Concords” dudes who provided the catchy tunes for the Muppet re-felt, there’s no touching the original Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher songs for the first puppet cross-country trip in 1979 – which is why the new movie was sure to use them. Their original songs sweetly combined attitude and earnestness, and now sound particularly heartening after being given a re-mastering polish and new packaging to coincide with “The Muppet Movie’s” 35th anniversary blu ray release. With most of us having seen this still-revolutionary kid movie back in our adolescence (or at least the end of it), we’ll never forget numbers like when Kermit the Frog strums “The Rainbow Connection,” jams with Fozzie in the van as they’re “Movin’ Right Along,” or when Rowlf tickling the ivories to grouse about women in “I Hope That Somethin’ Better Comes Along.” And no anthem was more memorable then when Miss Piggy proclaimed “Never Before, Never Again,” One of the screen’s great songwriters with the likes of Cinderella Liberty’s “You’re So Nice To Be Around,” “Evergreen” from “A Star Is Born,” and much of Death Records’ repertoire in “Phantom of the Paradise,” Paul Williams approached “The Muppet Movie” with just as much real melodic emotion and he did whimsy to the tune of Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for himself and Ascher. Their work is made even more memorable for the fact that it was the puppeteers performing “The Muppet Movie’s” songs, as opposed to the far more polished Carpenters or Three Dog Night who usually rendered Williams’ work. Indeed, the non-pro character-driven vocals makes the numbers all the more touching, from Jim Henson’s naïve Kermit voice to Frank Oz’s warbling as Miss Piggy, female vocals that Streisand still can’t touch at her best. Williams’ pop-orchestral Americana score also shines as brightly as ever, aided by Fozzie making wise after singing The National Anthem. As jokey about the sheer absurdity of it all, these are songs that truly believe in their search for friendship and stardom, letting “The Muppet Movie” continue its charming connection, especially as Williams recalls the original uniqueness of the first “Muppet” venture in the album’s new liner notes.
. RED 2: LIMITED EDITION
You could say that Alan Silvestri has been scoring action since the 70s disco-driving days of “CHiPs,” a killer talent for exciting rhythm that’s developed no small amount of orchestral testosterone through the decades with the muscular likes of “Predator,” “Judge Dredd,” “Beowulf” and “The Avengers.” So unlike Bruce Willis’ reluctant CIA spook in “Red,” Silvestri has never had to be pulled back in. For Silvestri’s always been at the ready with his special set of synth and symphonic skills, ones that have always given even his most manliest scores a wink of the eye. In “Red 2,” that exuberance is a bit more of a fun stare. Not that “Red 2’s” excitement is supposed to be “funny” as such, as opposed to enjoying the danger of another dose of wisecracking CIA-sponsored mayhem. Once again equipped with an arsenal of killer themes, Silvestri rocks out with ever-building, breathless combos of percussion, darkly sleek strings, hard-ass brass and outrightly comedic jazz grooves, all cranking along with a sense of danger does the hip hat trick of showing its aging cast as being the equal of any young killer Turk. But for longtime Silvestri fans, what makes “Red 2” particular fun is its sample-heavy tunes and grinding guitar. Sure Silvestri’s gear has come a long way since “Delta Force” and “No Mercy,” but the spirit of that exhilarating, electronic adrenalin is very much a driving spirit of “Red 2’s” hip factor, proving once again that there’s no better old pro at scoring spy games than Alan Silvestri.
. SPACE SHUTTLE COLUMBIA: MISSION OF HOPE
While understandably lauded for the hard-hitting vigilante stylings of “Arrow,” it should also be noted that Blake Neely took on a far more spiritual mission of musical heroism with “Space Shuttle Columbia.” Though called “Mission of Hope” on the Buysoundtrax album, the film’s original surname “Article of Hope” might be more apt in describing how Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon carried a Holocaust-era Torah scroll into outer space for that shuttle’s ill-fated mission. What Neely brings on board for this documentary is a lot of heart, and humanity, the kind of melody and passion that goes into work that’s obviously moved a composer to go above and beyond the call of duty. But in this case, that doesn’t mean rocketing into an overly obviously emotional stratosphere of symphonic patriotism for religion and country. Instead, Neely takes a subtle melodic approach that’s all the more affecting. While strings are most definitely on board, Neely uses the intimacy of piano and guitar to paint a sympathetic portrait, with only a violin providing a hint of Ramon’s Hebraic backstory. The result is shimmering, poignant melody that’s nothing less than consistently beautiful, conveying a musical light that will Neely tells no matter how this “Mission” ended.
TINKER BELL / ONCE UPON A TIME- SEASON 2
With their Disney soundtrack pact, Intrada has released some truly magical Mouse House golden oldies from “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” to “Baby.” But keeping up with the studio’s current scores has proven to be equally rewarding for the label, especially now with two Pan-centric releases. But the studio’s castle-buzzing Tinker Bell has certainly proven to be no second fiddle to the flying boy wonder. For how else could this sweet vixen have enlisted a talent on the order of Joel McNeely for her 2008 movie debut? Having started off giving soaring melodic commitment to Disney D-TV spins on “The Parent Trap” and “Davey Crockett” before letting his full orchestral colors fly though such memorable 90s scores as “Terminal Velocity,” “The Avengers” and “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles,” McNeely’s adventures since with Winnie the Pooh, The Fox and the Hound and Lilo and Stitch have lost none of his big screen passion. Its the kind of majestic sound that’s at the top of McNeely’s unabashedly melodic game with “Tinker Bell.” Think John Williams and Bruce Broughton at their heights during the uber-melodic 80s, and you’ll get an idea of the breathaking, sumptuously thematic feel for symphonic and choral wonder that could’ve easily accompanied a 100-million dollar live action film. Disney can be budgetarily credited with letting McNeely go for a 21 gun orchestral approach that defies the usual spin-off numbers crunching when it comes to music. But beyond its universal sense of large-scale fantasy wonder, there’s plenty of fun, unexpected touches in “Tinker Bell,” especially in how the composer dives into an enchanted swamp to employ the frog croacks and cricket chirping of Pixie Hollow on top of string lines. And a good four years before “Brave,” McNeely uses a pennywhistle and Irish rhythms to give his faerie a Celtic street equal to Princess Merida, not to mention tinker bells aplenty and pleasant songs performed by Lorenna McKennitt and Selena Gomez. Having since become the musical voice for further “Tinker Bell” spin offs, McNeely’s initial trip aboard her wings of wonder to Never Never Land will make you believe in film scoring at its most unabashed, with the composer extensively writing about his voyage via “Tinker Bell’s” beautifully illustrated booklet.
As a film composer who’s often tread the worlds of symphomic and electronic music to memorable, and dream-like results from the sweet lyricism of “Fly Away Home” to the dark magic of “Blade,” Mark Isham was particularly well-suited to make a rare visit into full-on TV scoring with ABC’s cult fairy tale-into-reality show “Once,” whose best spells from season one were physically collected by Intrada, as and thankfully not held prisoner in an E-parapet. Now the label brings together another memorable album of enchantment for “Once’s” second go-around, which saw Peter Pan’s entourage wreak havoc in Storyville, no more so than through his hook of his pirate nemesis. While the show’s “realistic” premise might not begat “Carribean”-esque scoring from Isham, there’s certainly blacker doings to the composer’s music in this go-around, music that takes an even bigger approach to the walls of our world being spun wildly by Rumpelstiltsken, or, ahem, Mr. Gold if you will. Not written so much in an old-school symphonic mode a la “Tinkerbell,” the second “Once” is more etheral and mesmerizing with its often flowing strings and samples, a sound that’s as tell-tale Isham as it is the sound of fairy tale magic. It makes “Once” just as well worth picking up for fans who enjoy Isham’s cinematic approach- one that’s no less vital or enchanting here as the suspenseful stakes ramp up considerably for all of its enticing glittering.
. UNFINISHED SONG
There have been some pretty amusing golden throat soundtracks through the years. “Unfinished Song’s” is having Terence Stamp show off his voice as a pensioner full of Zod-like fury who gets pulled into his ailing wife’s choir as a way to keep an eye on her. Except in this “Pitch Perfect” age, those daffy senior Brits are belting out “Ace of Spades” as opposed to “Ave Maria.” But damn it if the high concept of these “OAP”’s singing, rapping or serenading such not-so geriatric tunes in a cappella unison like “Let’s Talk About Sex,” “Love Shack” and “Ain’t Nobody” isn’t pretty much of a complete, goofy charmer. And while Madonna’s in no danger from Vanessa Redgrave’s version of “True Colors,” the actress’ speak-singing rendition is more about emotion than winning English Idol. When Stamp finally gets up to the mike, his now-bereaved character’s “Lullabye” is enormously touching, especially with its choral and piano backup. That Stamp is no Richard Harris is completely secondary to the crying feeling he puts into the tune. Laura Rossi’s on-the-seriocomic kerchief underscore is certainly pleasant, ranging from grumpus-sweeting bells and pizzicatos to poignant strings a la Portman. It all adds up to a “Song” that pleasantly ends up being more than its cute shtick.
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