Soundtracks are a lot more than movie music...
...or so I'm ready to argue as a 30 year devotee of this sorely under appreciated genre. So, in an effort to do my part, each week
I'll be making recommendations of soundtracks current and vintage, make a fuss over long awaited soundtrack scores finally getting
a well deserved release, and in general, make some noise about this often overlooked category. Beyond my long experience as a
listener and as a pianist and songwriter, both of which I've put to use in writing a quarterly soundtrack column for the Chicago
Tribune I can only offer my recommendations. You'll discern my taste soon enough and upfront I'd like to make it clear that I'll
focus most heavily on SCORE soundtracks. In the end, all criticism is subjective but if I can point a listener toward a little heard
soundtrack or strongly advise you to either ORDER IMMEDIATELY or SKIP ALTOGETHER, all the better.
Here's an expanded edition of my 11-27-09 soundtrack roundup for the Chicago
Tribune which mostly concentrates on fall-holiday releases:
In the world of soundtracks, like all things that have to do with the movies,
the last quarter of the year is filled with a blizzard of releases – song
compilation soundtracks, score soundtracks and hybrids including bits of
both. Here are some recent and upcoming movie score and song
soundtrack selections (culled from CDs and online download services) that
have caught our ear – a full range of selections for all tastes.
The film title (grouped alphabetically) is given first followed by a look at
some standout track(s):
1. “2012” – There’s nothing so inspiring at the end of an end of a
world movie like an uplifting power ballad, 80s style right? And “Time for
Miracles,” pushed to the melodramatic heights by “American Idol” runner
up and chart winner Adam Lambert has the chops (and enough blasting
guitars) to withstand the fury of Mother Nature.
|Just six of the soundtracks I've sampled and
found some recommended highlights in my
latest Chicago Tribune soundtrack column
2. “Amelia” – This biopic of the fated aviatrix Amelia Earhart with Hilary Swank in the title role may have failed to soar at the
box office but Gabriel Yared’s sweeping, old fashioned, over the top orchestral score based around a memorable melody for the title
character exemplified in “Introducing Amelia,” the soundtrack’s inspiring lead off cue, fits neatly into the Hollywood soundtrack
3. “Disney’s A Christmas Carol” – Alan Silvestri who has collaborated with director Robert Zemeckis on the previous holiday
themed film “The Polar Express” goes the full holiday carol route with this often rousing score, encapsulated in the title track (sharp
eared listeners will have fun counting the number of holiday chestnuts Silvestri works into the cue). “Touch My Robe,” gives us an
orchestral and large choral rendition of “Hark the Herald Angels” and, reflecting the ghostly goings on, there are many ominous
and/or haunted sounding cues. The whole thing is topped off by the newly minted holiday ballad “God Bless Us Everyone” blasted
to the ceiling by Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli. The score is a good way to usher in the holiday season but don’t look for it in stores –
it’s only available in download form online.
4. “An Education” – A hot little compilation of new songs written in the vein of classic English Mersey Beat mixed with rousing
chestnuts propels this intoxicating soundtrack. The airy voiced Beth Rowley does a nice job with her scintillating original “You’ve Got
Me Wrapped Around Your Little Finger,” Duffy with her little girl belt torches admirably on “Smoke Without Fire,” while Billie Holiday’s
vocal doppelganger Madeline Peyroux puts her stamp on the easy swing of the French song “J’ai Deux Amours.” But it’s the classic
Mel Torme with his effortless cool early rock classic “Comin’ Home Baby” that really sets the disc on fire. There was a reason why
Torme was dubbed “the velvet fog” and why the scene that features new sensation Carey Mulligan and Peter Sarsgaard dancing to
the track is one of this year’s most memorable. The inclusion of several of the lovely score cues by Paul Englishby (“Waltz in the
Street” is a standout) is also a decided bonus.
5. “The Informant” – Composer Marvin Hamlisch, who won Oscars for “The Sting” and “The Way We Were” in 1973 supplies a
delightful pastiche score of late 60s and early 70s lounge lizard pop movie music that perfectly mirrors this tongue-in-cheek black
comedy (an era that Hamlisch well knows having written one of the decades best – though little known – pop scores for 1968’s “The
Swimmer”). The cocktail lounge flavored title track with its piano lead line, winsome trumpet and lush strings is quintessential
Hamlisch – lovely, melodic and deliciously old fashioned while the cheesy sounding “Meet Mark” and “Car Meeting” with their
tweeting flutes, soft trumpets and light guitar lines are great examples of perky elevator music and “The Raid” with its twangy,
Duane Eddy like guitar and bongos could have come from a 60s spy parody movie like “Austin Powers.” Finally, “Trust Me,” which
features a Dr. John style vocal by Steve Tyrell is a swingin’ good time the Chairman himself might have covered.
6. “Nine” – For musical enthusiasts director Rob Marshall’s adaptation of the Broadway hit is the most anticipated movie of the
year and this song, a bongos and horn driven mix of 60s TV theme songs and Burt Bacharach era bossa nova, newly written for the
film is an exciting addition to Maury Yeston’s clever, sophisticated score from the forthcoming soundtrack and Hudson belts it out in
true Joey Heatherton fashion.
7. “Pirate Radio” – A movie about an illegal broadcasting station in the 60s should have a great soundtrack and this one doesn’
t disappoint. A lovely mix of rock, Motown, and English soul with a nice rarity tucked in here and there. The inclusion of “Dancing in
the Streets” by Martha & the Vandellas, perhaps the greatest single ever released is always a vibrant compilation addition as is the
single edition of the symphonic doom-n-gloom rock classic “Nights in White Satin” by the Moody Blues.
8. “The Princess and the Frog” – “Never Knew I Needed,” the first single from the forthcoming Disney film by R&B sensation Ne-
Yo bodes well for the rest of the score – it percolates along (thanks to a percussive, overriding piano) to an infectious beat, infused
with some sweet, wall of sound vocal harmonies.
9. “The Road” – Indie rock musician Nick Cave has been collaborating with Warren Ellis on a series of minimalist film scores
with the screen adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy bestseller their latest. The title track, featuring a slow rolling piano and quiet,
unfussy string line is simplicity itself and echoes the journey across the devastated post apocalyptic wasteland that Viggo Mortensen
as the Father and Kody Smit-McPhee as the Son make in the movie. A full soundtrack of the film is coming, first as a download and
in CD form in January. For now, several selections from the film are available on “White Lunar,” a compilation of soundtrack cues
from various films by the duo.
10. “A Single Man” – Abel Korzeniowski’s exquisite, haunting, classically inspired orchestral score (heavy on the strings and
tinkling piano) for the debut film from fashion designer Tom Ford is sure to make the short list for this year’s Oscar derby as
attested by this gorgeous cue. The soundtrack is forthcoming but a few cuts including “Stillness of Mind” can be sampled at the
composer’s website, www.abelkorzeniowski.com
11. “This Is It” – The year’s most renowned single, this Michael Jackson demo, a pleasantly melodic R&B ballad with the usual
topnotch vocal performance from the late singer was famously released in two versions (one with strings and other enhancements,
one with just Jackson’s vocal and piano) in advance of the concert documentary to mixed reception by music critics, instant
enshrinement by a multitude of fans world wide and surprise by Paul Anka, whose co-writing credit had somehow been overlooked
(an oversight that was quickly remedied). To everyone’s irritation, record company executives are forcing fans to pony up for yet
another Jackson compilation in order to get the single, hurried out to coincide with the film’s release.
12. “Twilight: New Moon” – Movie score darling Alexandre Desplat provides this second edition of the teen vampire franchise
with a lilting piano based waltz called “New Moon (The Meadow)” that fans of the original’s “Song for Bella” (written by Carter Burwell)
will just as happily swoon over while the soundtrack’s lead off track “Meet Me on the Equinox” by Death Cab for Cutie is catchy and
gloomy at once – in typical indie band fashion. A separate soundtrack dedicated to Desplat’s score is also available.
13. “Where the Wild Things Are” – Composer Carter Burwell’s typical somber woodwinds, low strings and a wordless vocal that
sounds like little Max himself sighing are highlighted in the cue “Sailing,” part of the score only soundtrack, a bookend for the song