Home > Reviews > Under-the-Radar Round Up 2022 – English Language Indies II

Under-the-Radar Round Up 2022 – English Language Indies II

My recurring under-the-radar series usually concentrates on the best scores for non-English language films in a given year, but doing so means that I sometimes overlook music written for British and American films that are similarly low-profile, but also have outstanding scores. To rectify that, here is the second of two new review articles looking at five such scores from the first half of 2022, written for independent English-language features that you might have otherwise overlooked. The scores are from a period western from Australia, a mid-budget horror film exploring the darker side of Mexican spiritual culture, a real-life drama about a baseball player, and two wonderful nature documentaries – one looking at life on the African savannah, and one looking at life deep below the seas.

 

THE DROVER’S WIFE: THE LEGEND OF MOLLY JOHNSON – Salliana Seven Campbell

The Drover’s Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson is an Australian historical drama written and directed by Leah Purcell, who also stars in the eponymous role. The film is a re-imagining of Henry Lawson’s 1892 short story The Drover’s Wife, and tells the story of a woman living with her children in an isolated community on the New South Wales/ Victoria border, and the hardships she faces trying to eke out an existence so far away from civilization – a life made harder by the fact that her drover husband is gone for months at a time tending to his livestock, leading Molly to cope alone.

The score for The Drover’s Wife is the debut work of Australian composer, vocalist, and multi-instrumentalist Salliana Seven Campbell, who specializes in ‘world music’ instruments such as the five-string violin, nyckelharpa, octave mandolin, baritone bowed psaltery, hammered dulcimer, and hurdy gurdy, as well as vocals. She has written solo art pieces and classical commissions, but this score is her feature composing debut. In talking about the film and the score Campbell says the director asked her to “send something sparse, non-melodic and edgy” and knew exactly the sound she wanted. She says, “What I loved most about the film is how raw it is, and I wanted the score to match that. The score is full of fiddles, banjos, mandolins, piano and electric guitars. I’m also proud to say except for two guitar solos and double bass I played all the instruments.”

The score that The Drover’s Wife reminds me of the most is Marco Beltrami’s The Homesman; it has that empty, haunted, desolate sound that only comes in depictions of vast, lonely places. In The Homesman, it was the American Midwest. In The Drover’s Wife it is the Australian Outback, before it was tamed by civilization. Quite a lot of the score is made up of vivid string writing, with a virtuoso sound and a classical flair that stands at odds with the film’s spartan setting. Contrary to Campbell’s own assertation to the contrary, there are some obvious melodies and themes in thew score, from the jaunty “Eating Bullock” to the sweet piano-based “Louisa’s Theme,” the playful “Ginny May,” and the spunky but thoughtful “Red Handed Molly”.

There’s something of a country-rock vibe to some of the music too, as evidenced by the gritty and dirty opening cue “Molly’s Walk,” and later tracks such as “Everton,” “Men’s Business,” and several others. These cues blend electric guitars with scratchy, haunted strings, but then often melt into nicely-textured pieces of Americana-infused folk music. Some of these rock vibes occasionally remind me of the original songs Jon Bon Jovi wrote for Young Guns II back in the early 1990s, which is not a sentence I expected to type when I started listening to this score.

Some of the sections in the middle of the album do tend to drift off into periods of abstraction, offering little more than extended instrumental dissonances, but even these cues are interesting from a textural and orchestral point of view; Campbell’s arrangements are always well-rendered and intelligent, using the same palette of instruments to create the unsettling mood that perfectly illustrates the dire circumstances Molly finds herself in. I especially like the aggressive, angry guitars in “A Mother’s Scorn,” and how that eventually changes into a lush, emotional theme for strings in its second half, and how this contrasts with the more plaintive, forlorn, but unexpectedly beautiful “Barefoot Molly”.

Overall, this is an impressive film music debut for Salliana Seven Campbell, and anyone who would appreciate a more modern, perhaps a little progressive, take on the classic ‘lonely western; sound will appreciate what The Drover’s Wife has to offer. The score is available as a digital download from Moviescore Media and via most other good online retailers.

Track Listing: 1. Molly’s Walk (2:43), 2. Eating Bullock (1:30), 3. Clintoff Arrival (1:40), 4. Louisa’s Theme (1:35), 5. Everton (2:47), 6. Ginny May (2:35), 7. Men’s Business (2:30), 8. Fire Stories (2:09), 9. Drunken and Disorderly (3:40), 10. The Hanging Tree (1:39), 11. He’s Buried There (2:45), 12. You’re Wearing Joe’s Boots (1:37), 13. Molly’s Grief (2:09), 14. A Mother’s Scorn (2:09), 15. Red Handed Molly (2:20), 16. Barefoot Molly (3:38), 17. Molly’s Last Walk (1:39), 18. Danny’s Hope (2:27), 19. Mongrel (1:21), 20. Molly’s Theme (2:10). Moviescore Media MMS-2202, 45 minutes 02 seconds.

 

THE LEGEND OF LA LLORONA – Tim Wynn

The Legend of La Llorona is a supernatural horror film directed by Patricia Harris Seeley, starring Autumn Reeser, Antonio Cupo, and Danny Trejo. The film explores the legend of la llorona, a figure from Mexican folklore, an “evil spirit of a distraught mother who lurks near the water’s edge and strikes fear in the hearts of all who see her”. Specifically, the film follows an American family who travel from California to Mexico for a much needed vacation, but who soon begin experiencing a nightmare when their youngest son, Danny, is kidnapped – apparently by la llorona – and they must deal with members of a local drug cartel to help save him.

The score for The Legend of La Llorona is by composer Tim Wynn, who for many years worked with composer Christopher Lennertz, and established himself as a video game specialist with outstanding scores such as Warhawk, several entries in the Command & Conquer 4 series, several entries in the Total War series, and several entries in the XCOM series. The Legend of La Llorona is one of the most high profile film scores he has written to date, but his skills clearly transfer from the game world to the film world, because the music is excellent.

In talking about his score, Wynn says: “When I first saw the The Legend of La Llorona, we wanted to come at this genre a little differently. The music really needed to convey how tragic this story is. The movie is scary, and it has supernatural elements, but we wanted the emotion of the story to be front and center. Our first thought was that the score really needed to have a voice that could humanize La Llorona and I was fortunate to be able to collaborate with the amazing vocalist Aeralie Brighton. She really brings the score to life and adds an extra dimension to the music.”

A lot of the score contains all the usual wailing howling and orchestral dissonance one expects from scores like this, complete with stingers and big explosions of sound, but what’s really impressive is how Wynn takes elements of traditional Mexican music and blends that with all his orchestral carnage to create an unexpectedly beguiling atmosphere. The main theme in “The Legend of La Llorona” is appropriately creepy, a ghoulish and ghostly lullaby, and then the way it expands to incorporate a lyrical and expressive Mexican-style guitar and Brighton’s tender, emotional voice in “The Weeping Woman” is really lovely.

Cues like “Midnight Swim,” the more action-intense “Jorge Returns,” “A Distant Memory,” and “Where Is Our Son?” are good, effective pieces of horror scoring, and occasionally raise to some imposing heights. Cues like “Forever More,” parts of “Gardens and Graves,” and the conclusive “You Can Still Save Him” build further on the main theme, and at times are really unexpectedly beautiful. “La Llorona is Real” is a superb combination of the two – initially very attractive, and then decidedly not; good horror composers know that the scares are often more frightening when the contrast with music that is unsettlingly, disarmingly attractive, and with this score Tim Wynn proves categorically that he is a good horror composer. More please. The score is available as a digital download from Moviescore Media and via most other good online retailers.

Track Listing: 1. The Legend of La Llorona (2:16), 2. The Weeping Woman (1:57), 3. Midnight Swim (1:30), 4. Pictures of the Past (2:41), 5. Isla de Munecas (2:41), 6. Forever More (2:19), 7. Jorge Returns (2:56), 8. A Distant Memory (2:38), 9. Gardens and Graves (3:42), 10. La Llorona Is Real (5:20), 11. She’s In the Walls (4:03), 12. After a Loss (2:13), 13. Dead of Night (5:46), 14. Where Is Our Son? (2:33), 15. Searching for Danny (2:49), 16. You Can Still Save Him (3:53). Moviescore Media MMS-22035, 49 minutes 09 seconds.

 

THE ROYAL – Jeff Cardoni

The Royal is a baseball-themed drama which tells the true life story of former Kansas City Royals professional Willie Mays Aikens. In 1980 Aikens made baseball history when he hit two home runs in two World Series games, a feat that wasn’t repeated until 2009, but despite this auspicious start his career and life quickly turned disastrous; he battled drug addiction, and then served 14 years in jail for crack cocaine possession and distribution. The film is directed by Marcel Sarmiento and stars Amin Joseph as Aikens, alongside Elisabeth Röhm and Olivia Holguín.

The score for The Royal is by Jeff Cardoni, who is a talented composer with prominent scores for films like Just Friends, Firehouse Dog, and Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, and TV shows like Entourage, Silicon Valley, CSI Miami, and The Kominsky Method to his name, but who has mostly remained under-the-radar – although he’s certainly busy, his scores don’t often get discussed in mainstream forums, so hopefully The Royal will spark some wider recognition for the good composer he is.

Most of The Royal is made up of earnest, wholesome orchestral writing, heavy on the strings underpinned, but which is often underpinned some jazzier piano textures, and some light country/blues instrumentals that make use of a prominent guitar, and which speak to Aiken’s cultural heritage. The depiction of Aiken’s life in prison is rightly given weight and solemnity, but as the score develops it gradually fills with life, hope, and a sense of purpose, coupled with the joy that Aiken feels having regained his freedom.

Cues like “Childhood Memories,” “Driving Lessons,” and “She’s My Momma Too” are really beautiful, and will appeal to fans of Thomas Newman’s lusher orchestral work. Elsewhere, cues like “Road Crew Daydream,” “Batting Cages,” and “Thanks Dad” are clearly influenced by another side of Thomas Newman’s musical personality; the playful rhythms and heavy reliance on marimbas is in the style of scores like American Beauty, while the quirky and spiky pizzicato textures are drawn from scores like The Shawshank Redemption. Two longer cues during the score’s finale, “High School Speech” and ”The Hearing,” really allow Cardoni the luxury of time, and give him the chance to build his music up to some really excellent heights of pathos and emotion.

Overall, The Royal is a fine score, one which fans of Thomas Newman’s moody but appealing dramatic work will find especially to their liking. It’s nice to see Jeff Cardoni getting some big-screen love, because he’s super talented and deserves more mainstream attention than he gets, and if you’ve never heard his music before then this score would be a good place to start. The score album is available as a digital download from Amazon and via most other good online retailers.

Track Listing: 1. Letter From Prison (1:59), 2. Release (2:07), 3. Driving to Seneca (1:22), 4. Childhood Memories (2:43), 5. Walking the Streets (0:48), 6. Leaving Home (0:46), 7. Road Crew Daydream (1:17), 8. Fighting Back Old Demons (0:50), 9. Batting Cages (1:49), 10. Now Go Home and Forget (1:28), 11. Family Reunion (1:48), 12. Unjustly Incarcerated (1:18), 13. Driving Lessons (2:24), 14. Optics Just Aren’t Right (0:39), 15. I Can’t Win (0:57), 16. She’s My Momma Too (2:36), 17. This Is A Blessing (1:21), 18. Thanks Dad (1:20), 19. Finding Mom (0:58), 20. Keep The Faith (2:01), 21. Hey Dad (0:51), 22. High School Speech (2:37), 23. The Hearing (4:05). Fallout Shelter Recordings, 37 minutes 5 seconds.

 

SECRETS OF THE SEA – Alan Williams

Secrets of the Sea is a giant screen documentary directed by Howard Hall and Jonathan Bird, produced by Michele Hall, and narrated by Joelle Carter, which according to the score’s press material ‘takes viewers into the ocean to show the ways marine species interact with each other and their environment, demonstrating the critical importance of marine biodiversity to maintaining healthy oceans’. Nature documentary films like these often inspire excellent music, and that’s certainly the case here.

The score for Secrets of the Sea is by composer Alan Williams, who has been writing music for films like this for going on 25 years without ever truly breaking through into the big time. He’s a classic, old-school orchestral composer – stylistically he reminds me of Bruce Broughton, William Ross, Mark McKenzie, people like that – and is given to writing big themes with big, sweeping symphonic arrangements. Secrets of the Sea certainly fits those criteria; it was recorded in Macedonia with the FAMES Orchestra, and it benefits from the big and lush sound those real instruments generate.

The music is really excellent, and runs the gamut of emotions and styles. The opening part of “Secrets of the Sea,” and later cues like “Clever Octopus,” “Mouth Fighting,” the scintillating “Life of a Dugong,” and “Bump Head Rasts” are thrilling and action packed, filled with ravishing string runs and turbulent percussion patterns, as well as more prominent writing for brass. The second half of “Sea Otters Fluff,” “Seals Being Seals,” the gorgeous “Cleaning Stations,” and the conclusive pair comprising “Ocean of Recovery” and the “End Credits” are elegant and romantic, evoking the natural beauty and sense of wonder that often accompanies these deep ocean vistas.

Elsewhere, “Squid” revels in rousing, spacious majesty and then offers a violin solo filled with solemn and poignant pathos. Cues like “Frogfish and Seahorse” and the first half of “Sea Otters Fluff” are delicate and playful, with lots of sprightly woodwind and piano writing emerging from lush beds of strings, a perfect representation of the sometimes humorous situations these critters find themselves in. “Moving Coconuts” even has a tropical calypso vibe that is a ton of fun. Honestly, there isn’t a disappointment among them.

It’s always been a source of frustration to me that composers like Alan Williams – along with the others I mentioned, as well as others I did not – never seem to get breaks scoring major film or television project these days. I really don’t understand why, because his music is beautifully written, sumptuously orchestrated, emotionally appropriate – and yet, despite him having been active since the mid-1990s, he has yet to score anything remotely close to the mainstream. Secrets of the Sea is unlikely to change that, given the type of project that it is, but it at least offers a timely reminder of what a great composer he is.

Selections from the soundtrack for Secrets of the Sea are available to stream via Williams’s personal website here: http://www.alanwilliams.com/Secrets.html, and the soundtrack is currently available to stream/download on Amazon and most other major digital music services.

Track Listing: 1. Secrets of the Sea (3:22), 2. Frogfish and Seahorse (3:02), 3. Moving Coconuts (1:33), 4. Clever Octopus (2:08), 5. Carrier Crab (1:59), 6. Sea Otters Fluff (1:55), 7. Mouth Fighting (2:02), 8. Seals Being Seals (2:06), 9. Life of a Dugong (1:55), 10. Cleaning Stations (2:39), 11. Bump Head Rasts (1:49), 12. Creatures of Inner Space (1:49), 13. Squid (2:11), 14. Food of Giants (1:54), 15. Ocean of Recovery (2:43), 16. Secrets of the Sea End Credits (1:30), 17. Secrets of the Sea Theatrical Trailer (1:58). Quinate Publishing/Silverscreen Music, 36 minutes 35 seconds.

 

SERENGETI – Alan Williams

Serengeti is an IMAX documentary directed by Michael Dalton-Smith about life on the titular national park, which is located in northern Tanzania and contains some of the most spectacular animal life in the world. The film’s press material says that “life happens in the Serengeti on an unprecedented scale. It’s home to most of Africa’s iconic animals and hosts one of the world’s greatest natural events: the annual wildebeest migration. Nature has orchestrated a perfect symphony in which every species has a very distinct role to play in the larger story of the balance of an entire ecosystem.” Serengeti shows this by focusing on a quintet of young animals – a zebra, a wildebeest, an elephant, a giraffe, and a cheetah – as they imitate their parents and learn about the mighty roles they’ll play.

Serengeti is the second of 2022’s large scale nature documentary scores by composer Alan Williams. Like Secrets of the Sea it was recorded in Macedonia with the FAMES Orchestra, but Serengeti differs in the way it takes those broad orchestral strokes and combines them with traditional African sounds, ranging from percussion and woodwinds to chanted and sung vocals. The opening cue, “Serengeti,” is a perfect example of this, building out from a vibrant percussive beat into a warm, inviting theme for delicate woodwinds, broadly expansive orchestral colors, and tribal vocals that at times recall the best parts of The Lion King.

Williams’s music is multi-faceted, exploring lots of different emotions, as the different sets of animals experience different aspects of life on the African savannah in all its glory. The main theme returns beautifully in cues such as “Extraordinary Canvas,” the epic “Arriving at the Grass Plains,” “Simba Roars,” “Herd Arrive at Mara River,” and especially in the magnificent finale pair comprising “Back Home on the Plains” and the “Serengeti End Credits”.

The different set of animals each receive different musical identifies that signify their species and their interactions with each other. “Kijana the Little One” is playful and excitable, filled with prancing string figures and energetic percussion rhythms. “Nyumbu the Wildebeest” is stately and proud, and builds to an epic conclusion. The theme for “Tembo the Elephant” uses marimbas and strings to create a sound that is wholesome, and endearing. “Duma the Cheetah” uses layered woodwinds in unusual ways, which make the little cheetah kittens all the more loveable.

“Oldoinyo Lengai” – which relates to a mountain in the Maasai region of Tanzania nicknamed ‘Mountain of God’ – is interesting in the way it gives the score a sense of uncertainty and hidden danger; the slashing strings in the second half of the cue drive this home further, and brilliantly lead into the quite dramatic and powerful “Lake Natron,” which has a much larger brass-led sound, as well as the later “Monsuni Winds” which is more restrained and thoughtful. “Predator Gauntlet and Vultures” and “River Crossing Crocs” are both action cues, festivals of wild percussion, flamboyant strings, and shrill woodwinds, which enhance the danger the animals face at every turn.

This is outstanding stuff from Alan Williams from start to finish, a dazzling travelogue of music that perfectly accompanies this most spectacular location and its equally spectacular animal life; listeners who appreciate large-scale orchestral scores with a healthy dose of African tribal influence will especially appreciate it. Selections from the soundtrack for Serengeti are available to stream via Williams’s personal website here: http://www.alanwilliams.com/Serengeti.html, and the full album will be available to download on Amazon and from most other major digital music services shortly.

Track Listing: 1. Serengeti (2:56), 2. Extraordinary Canvas (1:08), 3. Kijana the Little One (1:26), 4. Nyumbu the Wildebeest (2:14), 5. Tembo the Elephant (1:50), 6. Arriving at the Grass Plains (3:54), 7. Duma the Cheetah (1:03), 8. Simba Roars (2:06), 9. Wadudu Dung Beetle (1:28), 10. Oldoinyo Lengai (1:23), 11. Lake Natron (2:21), 12. Tembo Bath (1:09), 13. Monsuni Winds (1:35), 14. Predator Gauntlet and Vultures (2:14), 15. Herd Arrive at Mara River (1:38), 16. River Crossing Crocs (3:32), 17. Back Home on the Plains (2:13), 18. Serengeti End Credits (2:57). Quinate Publishing/Silverscreen Music, 37 minutes 12 seconds.

  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: