CD Review: The Journey of Natty Gann

By • June 29, 2009

Composer: James Horner
Labels: Intrada
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99
Grade: A

James Horner fans have clamored for one particular soundtrack for over two decades. And now their long trek of wishing, hoping and waiting is over in style with Intrada’s limited edition release of THE JOURNEY OF NATTY GANN, the second entry in the composer’s legendary Disney Trifecta. Sure Horner’s music for 1985’s nostalgic teen adventure arrived between his more fantastical scores for 1983’s SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES and 1989’s HONEY, I SHRUNK THE KIDS. But there’s no such thing as being middle of the road for Horner, as NATTY, in its slightly smaller way, represents a major stylistic step for the composer- this time on an Americana path that would lead him to such major “period” scores as GLORY and LEGENDS OF THE FALL. Manly epics both, but with a sometimes surging, rustic sound that really started with the adventures of a tomboy and her pet wolf.

Newcomer Meredith Salenger got her first major part as the spunky young woman who ventures across Depression-era America to find her dad, accompanied by canine and John Cusack (who hit it big that year with THE SURE THING and BETTER OFF DEAD). NATTY continued in the more “adult” direction that Disney live action was heading toward, a journey no doubt helped by the likeable actors, excellent production value, strong direction by Jeremy Kagen and James Horner’s lush score. However, it was Elmer Bernstein who’d begun the musical trip with NATTY. But like Georges Delerue, whose score Horner would replace on SOMETHING WICKED, Disney mostly opted out of a musical approach that they probably viewed as too old-fashioned, especially when compared to Horner’s more vibrant approach.

With a natural talent that saw him quickly leave the low budget likes of BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS and UP FROM THE DEPTHS in the dust, Horner’s instrumentally diverse work on the likes of STAR TREK: THE WRATH OF KAHN, 48 HOURS, THE DRESSER and COCOON quickly rose this young composing Turk to become one of Hollywood’s top rank composers. Yet it wasn’t as if Horner was tossing aside the more genteel sound of Delerue and Bernstein as much as he was rustling it up with a more robust take on the European masters who’d inspired composers from the start of scoring itself.

But if there’s one musician who’s riding in the saddle with Horner on this JOURNEY, then it’s Aaron Copland. There’s the jubilant sound of Americana as Natty navigates through the Great Northwest, with such tell-tale instruments as the trumpet, guitar, piano and flute conveying the picaresque majesty and the overall good-heartedness that Natty encounters. It’s patriotic as such without ever waving the flag, though it does buck with some rambunctious hoedowns that quickly bring such classic Copland concert works as “Appalachian Spring” and “Billy the Kid” to mind (if not Copland’s score to THE RED PONY). Horner has this feel gorgeously down, with an innate sense of melody and themework that immediately made Hollywood catch ear of his burgeoning talent.

Salenger’s Natty Gann certainly isn’t a “kid” as such. Yet Horner’s wistful, and tender sense of spunk and melancholy reveals a little girl who will go two thousand miles to find her dad. It’s this symphonic ability to play these youthful heartstrings that made Horner an ideal “Disney” compose, as Horner hit the right bittersweet notes endemic to the studio’s fairy tales- even ones steeped in Depression realism like NATTY GANN. It’s a lyrical sound that would mature with even more passion, and violence in the historical epics that Horner would latter score. Yet Natty’s no emotional lightweight. And though there’s a thriller action run here and there, an unused action cue on the album is even darker, the music as percussively ferocious as any cue that Horner would do for ALIENS.

As with their CD’s for SOMETHING WICKED and HONEY, NATTY GANN sounds terrific, and has been assembled for maximum emotional impact by Horner and Simon Rhodes, with great liner notes by Steven Y. Mori. Sure dozens more scores would follow. But for those soundtrack fans discovering Horner’s magic, especially those who were kids themselves at a NATTY matinee, it’s easy to hear why this one has remained one of the composer’s most-requested soundtracks. And there remains little dust to the nostalgic, yet vital beauty that Horner found during THE JOURNEY OF NATTY GANN.

Take a trek with James Horner here


By Jim on June 29th, 2009 at 6:01 pm

Daniel, thanks for a great review as always. I usually avoid Horner. It’s not that I have anything against him, like so many film music fans. His music has rarely excited me (GLORY being an exception). But your review, and in particular your comparison to Copland, was enough to send me over to the Intrada site to have a listen. My wallet doesn’t thank you, but I do.

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