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ALL THE PRETTY HORSES – Marty Stuart, Kristin Wilkinson and Larry Paxton

December 25, 2000 Leave a comment Go to comments

alltheprettyhorsesOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

I’ve spoken about preconceptions many times before on Movie Music UK; pre-judging a score based on what you know about the movie, and the composer, before you hear the music. Once again, I have been found guilty of negatively pre-judging a particular score, only to hear the thing and be totally blown away. The score in question this time is All the Pretty Horses, written by Marty Stuart, with additional music by Larry Paxton, Kristin Wilkinson and Daniel Lanois. All the Pretty Horses is director Billy Bob Thornton’s sophomore effort, following his critically acclaimed, Oscar-winning debut Sling Blade. It’s a rites-of-passage Western, adapted from the popular novel by Cormac McCarthy and starring Matt Damon as John Grady Cole, a young man in rural 1940s Texas who, after being made homeless following his grandmother’s death, heads off to Mexico with his best buddy Lacey Rawlins (Henry Thomas) to seek his fortune. Unfortunately, fortune is not what Cole and Rawlins find south of the Rio Grande, instead becoming involved in the affairs of a teenage gunslinger Blevins (Lucas Black), a Mexican rancher’s daughter (Penelope Cruz), with whom Cole falls in love, and the local police, who take exception to the blossoming romance between the handsome American and the beautiful señorita.

The preconceptions about this score came from the fact that Marty Stuart, the primary creative force behind the music, is better known to the world as a country ‘n western singer, with hit albums such as “Tempted”, “Hillbilly Rock”, “The Pilgrim” and “This One’s Gonna Hurt You” to his name. As a solo artist, I like Stuart a lot, but in my mind the idea of him writing an orchestral film score was as ludicrous as Garth Brooks, or Vince Gill, or even Dolly Parton writing one. How wrong could I be? All the Pretty Horses is an evocative, haunting celebration of the music of the American west, filled with the familiar strains of acoustic guitars, mandolins, accordions, and lush strings, but given a fresh spin by Stuart’s new approach to their use. The music written by Stuart and his cohorts is nothing less than gorgeous; the music is as warm as the desert sun, and as beautiful as a sunset over the Grand Canyon.

The opening track, ‘Cowboy Dream’ is a superb amalgam of the six-member “combo” and Suzy Katayama’s orchestra, giving the score a strong thematic anchor, and is soulfully recapitulated in ‘John Grady’s Angel’, ‘The King of Horses’ and the melancholy ‘Long Journey Home’. The score’s other primary theme appears in the third track, ‘All the Pretty Horses’, and builds from a dreamy set of opening chords into an ebullient anthem for the West, replete with brass fanfares and guitar chords that roll effortlessly of Stuart’s nimble fingers.

What is most impressive about All the Pretty Horses is the wonderful sense of style, and the musical excellence Stuart brings to the proceedings. Without wanting to sound unkind to the many excellent practitioners in the pop, rock and country arenas, but it just never occurred to me that they might be capable of this kind of orchestral expression. Some of Stuart’s touches are magnificent – the Spanish trumpets in ‘Purty Dad-Gum Good’ and the lazy Mariachi tones of ‘Edge of the World’ provide a welcome change of pace and atmosphere, although they are somewhat reminiscent of Three Amigos and make you smile at the similarity, while Stuart himself contributes a series of marvelously impressionistic touches to ‘After the Rain’ and ‘Mild Cello Blues’ that indicate a surprisingly solid understanding of scoring techniques and dissonance.

Other moments of note include the unexpected tuba solo, flamenco fanfares and Zorro-esque handclaps in the lively ‘Strawberry Tango’, and the action cue ‘Malarki Opus in D Major’, which combines a virtuoso guitar element with a deep, throbbing orchestral accompaniment. Sling Blade composer Daniel Lanois’ contributions comprise the tracks ‘Waltz for Hope’, a gently romantic guitar piece, and ‘Porque’, a gentle Spanish ballad performed by Raul Malo; the sorrowful ‘My Last Days on Earth’ is the sole contribution of composer Bill Monroe, but stands out as an emotional high spot as the only track to feature a choir. Rounding out the album is a vocal version of the score’s love theme, the vaguely Randy Newmanish “Far Away”, performed by Stuart himself.

Comparing All the Pretty Horses with other scores is difficult. At times it invokes the dream-like textures of Chris Young’s Bright Angel, and the life and good-humor of Mark Knopfler’s Cal or Local Hero, while at others is contains the same effortless energy of anything Elmer Bernstein or Jerome Moross might have written in their heyday. Some of the orchestral effects are as inventive as anything Morricone wrote for Sergio Leone, and it even manages to work in some vivacious Spanish inflections for its south-of-the-border setting.

All the Pretty Horses is one of the most surprising, and most enjoyable albums to emerge during the latter months of 2000, and fans of Western scores are eagerly encouraged to seek it out. It may be more to do Stuart’s music business clout than the score’s excellence in itself, but the fact that Sony Classical have released it must be an indication of how highly regarded this project is. If that were not enough, the Golden Globe nomination bestowed upon it also speaks volumes. Here’s hoping that Marty Stuart’s film music career is not a one-hit wonder.

Rating: ****

Track Listing:

  • Cowboy’s Dream (1:17)
  • Canyon Sonata (1:16)
  • All the Pretty Horses (1:10)
  • Purdy Dad-Gum Good (1:16)
  • After the Rain (1:07)
  • Mild Cello Blues (1:24)
  • Malarki Opus in D Major (1:31)
  • John Grady’s Angel (1:29)
  • Edge of the World (1:32)
  • Get My Boots (1:09)
  • Strawberry Tango Parts 1 & 2 (4:16)
  • The King of Horses (1:29)
  • Far Away (Alejandra’s Phone Call) (1:54)
  • Porque (performed by Raul Malo) (3:04)
  • Waltz for Hope (3:10)
  • Ain’t That a Drag (2:41)
  • My Last Days on Earth/What’s It Like to be Dead? (1:53)
  • Long Journey Home (1:59)
  • Candles and Lies (0:53)
  • Rainy Room (1:59)
  • Far Away (performed by Marty Stuart) (3:59)
  • Far Away (Reprise) (1:34)
  • Cowboy’s Dream/All the Pretty Horses Medley (6:45)

Running Time: 48 minutes 58 seconds

Sony Classical SK-89465 (2000)

Music composed by Marty Stuart, Kristin Wilkinson and Larry Paxton. Conducted by Suzie Katayama. Orchestrations by Kristin Wilkinson and Chris McDonald. Featured musical soloists Marty Stuart, Larry Paxton, Sam Bacco, Kristin Wilkinson, Suzie Katayama and Randy Kerber. Additional music by Daniel Lanois, Ruel Malo, Dennis Britt, Bill Monroe, Sam Bacco and Chris McDonald. Recorded and mixed by Jim Mitchell. Album produced by Marty Stuart.

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