TEXAS RISING – John Debney and Bruce Broughton
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton
The American cable TV channels A&E and History have, in recent years, been branching out of their usual comfort zone and producing a number of epic mini-series chronicling important events or people in American history. Their first effort, in 2012, told the story of the feud between the Hatfields & McCoys that has since become part of American folklore; the second, in 2013, was a chronicle of the lives of gangsters Bonnie & Clyde, while the third, in 2014, was an extended biography of the life of magician Harry Houdini. Their latest project is a 10-hour western epic called Texas Rising, which chronicles the events of the 1835 war which led to the state of Texas breaking away from Mexico, and briefly becoming an independent nation, before becoming the 28th state of the United States. A large number of important historical events, like the battle at the Alamo, and pivotal figures from the American west, such as Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone, and Sam Houston, are depicted by director Roland Joffé, whose cast includes a who’s who of character actors, including Bill Paxton, Brendan Fraser, Ray Liotta, Kris Kristofferson, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Crispin Glover and Jeff Fahey.
One recurring element throughout each of these series has been the presence of composer John Debney; he and his co-composer Tony Morales received Emmy nominations for Hatfields & McCoys, while on Houdini Debney worked with electronic composer Sebastian Arocha to give the music a more contemporary edge. For Texas Rising, a classic western score was required, so Debney decided to collaborate with one of the best composers of music for the western genre alive today: Bruce Broughton. Although the rather breathless press release for Texas Rising says that Debney brought Broughton ‘out of retirement’ for this assignment, the truth is that Broughton has been steadily working on television projects and classical commissions for years, and was definitely not ‘in retirement’ in the first place. Nevertheless, it’s still a fact that the last film Broughton scored which received a mainstream theatrical cinema release was Lost in Space in 1999, and it feels like he’s been away for 15 years, even though he’s been nominated for five Emmies since then, and won three of them.
Broughton is, of course, responsible for writing two of the greatest Western scores of the last 30 years, Silverado and Tombstone, while his work on smaller projects like O Pioneers, True Women, Roughing It, and The Ballad of Lucy Whipple, is less well-known, but no less superb. For Texas Rising, it appears that the two composers actually worked together directly; each cue is attributed to both of them equally, with no indication as to who was responsible for which theme. The end result is really quite outstanding – a classic Western score in all senses of the word, which channels the best of Elmer Bernstein, Dimitri Tiomkin, and Aaron Copland, blends it with some authentic-sounding traditional Mexican guitar music, and polishes it with the professional sheen that only composers as sophisticated as Debney and Broughton can provide. It’s so good and so seamless, you can’t see the joins.
The score is built around an enormous main theme, first heard in the opening “Texas Rising Suite,” which itself encompasses multiple styles of writing, from fife-and-drum military cadences to a lovely oboe-led romantic theme, a Mexican-style march with solo trumpets and acoustic guitars, and even some more playful sequences for light strings, plucked bass and piano. The main theme is a real knockout, a melody as wide and sweeping as the vast Texan landscape, orchestrated in the classic Hollywood western style. The 90 second “Texas Rising Main Title” that concludes the score portion of the album is especially wonderful.
The main theme enjoys several restatements and variations throughout the score, including a darker version in “Emily Arrives in Camp,” an upbeat and heroic restatement in “Rangers Run into Mexican Army,” and there’s even a ragtime variation on the main theme which appears in the Suite. Meanwhile, virtuoso classical guitarist José Feliciano contributes some pretty textures to some of the romantic cues, notably “Deaf’s Goodbye to Lupe,” the evocative but clunkily-titled “Santa Ana and Emily Sex in the Bath,” and the optimistic “Wykoff’s New Home,” some of which get close to (but never actually surpass) the beauty of Broughton’s romantic themes from Tombstone. Feliciano’s contribution to the conclusive “Emily Rescue” – an unusual cue given a slightly more modern aspect with its percussion backbeat and country ‘n’ western fiddle solo – is one of the score’s highlights.
The playful melodic performances in cues such as “Anderson Wakes Rangers,” “Lupe Watches Deaf Ride Off,” and the unexpectedly cheerful and lighthearted “Getting’ a Whippin’,” intentionally evoke the folk music of the era without directly quoting one particular song or melody, instead providing a hint of appropriate regional flavor that lovingly pastiches the music the Texas Rangers would have themselves heard. These are counterbalanced by some much more serious action and suspense writing, with cues like “The Alamo and Lorca,” “Sam Talks Strategy,” “Mexican Ambush,” and the unnerving “Lorca’s Hanging Bodies” reminding us with militaristic snares, stark piano chords, and aggressive clusters of string and brass writing that the fate of a nation is at stake in these vast plains and distant one-horse towns. The two “Battle of San Jacinto” cues are real showstoppers, 8-minutes of rich, complicated action writing for the full orchestra which incorporates several statements of the main themes and showcases both composers at their best.
The score album is capped off with several country songs and performances of traditional folk tunes, including two different versions of the period-specific “Yellow Rose of Texas” and “Come to the Bower,” and efforts by Kris Kristofferson, George Strait and José Feliciano. Kristofferson’s stripped-down acoustic version of Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down,” while terribly anachronistic, is excellent.
Fans of classic, serious western scores will find Texas Rising very much in their wheelhouse. While the score does adhere to the genre stereotypes and clichés to a tee, the fact that Debney and Broughton have written this music in a sincere, non-ironic way – because they genuinely believe that this type of music is the best way to score a western – makes it a success. The compositional talent both composers have shown throughout their careers is very much on display here, and it’s especially gratifying to see Bruce Broughton again working on a project worthy of his talents. If this score doesn’t at least pick up an Emmy nomination, I will be absolutely astonished.
Buy the Texas Rising soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store
- I Won’t Back Down (written by Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne, performed by Kris Kristofferson) (3:49)
- Igual Que Yo (written and performed by José Feliciano) (4:22)
- Texas Rising Suite (9:17)
- Emily Arrives in Camp/Town Evacuation (2:00)
- Anderson Wakes Rangers (1:49)
- Truett & Yancey Flirt with Sarah (1:36)
- The Alamo and Lorca (1:57)
- Sam Talks Strategy (1:15)
- Deaf’s Goodbye to Lupe (2:23)
- Lupe Watches Deaf Ride off (0:33)
- Gettin’ a Whippin’ (1:05)
- Houston Addresses the Troops (1:37)
- Rangers Run into Mexican Army (2:33)
- Mexican Ambush (2:42)
- Santa Ana and Emily Sex in the Bath (2:29)
- Bigfoot and Hayes at the Waterfall (1:23)
- Lorca’s Hanging Bodies (2:30)
- Wykoff’s New Home (1:02)
- Deaf Tries Talking to Lupe (2:06)
- The Battle of San Jacinto, Part 1 (4:02)
- The Battle of San Jacinto, Part 2 (4:32)
- Emily Rescue (6:06)
- Yellow Rose of Texas (traditional, performed by the Texas Rising Ensemble) (1:23)
- Yellow Rose of Texas – Alternate Version (traditional, performed by the Texas Rising Ensemble) (1:26)
- Come to the Bower (traditional, performed by the Texas Rising Ensemble) (1:46)
- Come to the Bower – New Orleans Version (traditional, performed by the Texas Rising Ensemble) (3:58)
- Texas Rising Main Title (1:34)
- Take Me to Texas (written by Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally, performed by George Strait) (3:32)
Running Time: 74 minutes 47 seconds
MCA Nashville Records (2015)
Music composed by John Debney and Bruce Broughton. Conducted by Bruce Broughton. Orchestrations by John Debney, Bruce Broughton, Peter Bateman and Kevin Kaska. Recorded and mixed by Jeff Vaughn. Edited by Kevin Banks. Album produced by John Debney, Bruce Broughton, William Ewart and Greg Cahn.