Appaloosa (Soundtrack) by Jeff Beal



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Appaloosa by Jeff Beal


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Appaloosa (Soundtrack) by Jeff Beal

Composed by Jeff Beal
Lakeshore Records (2008)

Rating: 7/10

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“Like the film, Jeff Beal's work is clearly "western" yet there are subtleties that move it slightly askew of average.  With Westerns and their scores still in the minority these days, those who long for such down-home-story-tellin'-music, may find APPALOOSA one that will likely fit the bill. ”

A Hitch and Getalong
Review by Christopher Coleman

Composer Jeff Beal

"[POLLOCK] came together really quickly and was easy to find. I felt really connected to the subject matter. APPALOOSA wasn't that. I worked harder for this one, but it was fun. I felt like there was no way to do it fast, even though the end result can sometimes seem very simple or spare - getting there was a lot of work. I'm very proud of it."
Jeff Beal

Read the full interview with JEFF BEAL

The name of "Ed Harris" is certainly not an unfamiliar one when it comes to Hollywood's A-list of actors. His name as a director, though, is a bit less recognizable. Eight years ago, Ed Harris made his directorial debut with his poignant and sincere portrayal of artist Jackson Pollock in, POLLOCK. Harris' choice to compose the original score for POLLOCK was veteran television composer, JEFF BEAL. Some eight years later, the two creatives connect to bring Robert Parker's novel, APPALOOSA, to the big screen.

APPALOOSA is a small story built in classic, western fashion, yet somehow within its details, remains somewhat fresh.  With Harris at the helm, he also stars in the film alongside his brilliant cast of Viggo Mortensen, Renee Zellweger and Jeremy Irons. In much the same way 2007's 3:10 TO YUMA was much more about the characters than the settings or action, APPALOOSA focuses on the noble but imperfect hero of Virgil Cole (Harris), his deputy Hitch (Mortensen), their skirmish with the murderous Randall Bragg (Irons) and the unscrupulous woman, Allison French (Zellweger), who is set in the midst of all three men. With such an emphasis on character and performance, the door was left wide open for composer JEFF BEAL to help define each.

The acts of the film are clearly defined and well-represented on the soundtrack released by Lakeshore Records. Act 1 introduces us to the story's major players, act 2 delivers the central dilemma, and act 3 the resolution. Listening to the soundtrack, Act 1 could be defined as the first 11 tracks. First and foremost we get the film's title theme, which is also used to represent deputy Hitch, from whose perspective this tale is told. This main theme (1) is a wonderful piece that can easily stand next to most any contemporary, western score and even next to those from the Western's golden era. With guitars, harmonica, trumpet and strings backed by subtle percussion, the music immediately draws you into the abrasive setting of the high desert of New Mexico and right alongside the two guns-for-hire. The main motif of the entire theme surfaces many times throughout all three acts, but most notably in "Hitch Rides" (14), "Riding into Rio Seco" (18) and "Riding Off, Appaloosa End Credits" (23). Balancing out the title theme is Randall Bragg's theme. Introduced in the very brief track 3 "Bragg's Theme," we get low percussion and upright bass, playing dark and dissonant strings, the most recognizable melody being carried by the upright bass. On the soundtrack, Bragg's theme most clearly returns in "Cole and Hitch Stalk Bragg" (7) only with a quicker tempo and intensified performance. Lastly, act 1 gives us the film's romantic element via the musical theme for Allison French. Track 4, "Allison French" is light and airy piece lead on violin and cello, backed by pizzicato strings, and subtle percussive accents. The playfulness of the theme reflects not only the character of Allie French, but the undercurrent of subtle humor that runs through most of the film. Allie's motif makes a good number of appearances throughout the length of the score such as in: "Dawn in Appaloosa" (6), "Apology Excepted" (9), "Readin' and Writin' (11), and "Shootout at Rio Seco" (20).

Tracks 12 through 17, represent the film's second act. JEFF BEAL's score appropriately darkens as Cole and Hitch set out to rescue Allie from the sinister clutches of Randall Bragg. With increased screentime of our villain, the score shifts to an emphasis on percussion, quiet but dissonant strings, and, with the exception of "Hitch Rides" (14), makes few references to the lighter, more heroic elements. Amidst the pensiveness, "The Indian Attack" (17) infuses some much needed energy as the tempo is quickened and layered upon the percussion are bells, brass and woodwinds to represent the Native American encounter.

The final eight tracks follow the film to it's conclusion. There's a clear shift in the color of the music as tracks 18-20 represent the Rio Seco incident. With a strong Spanish influence, we hear the title theme played casually on guitar in "Riding Into Rio Seco" (18). Next, we hear a simple, yet beautiful Spanish-ballad played solely on guitar "Ballad of Rio Seco" (19). Finally, in "Shootout At Rio Seco" (20) we hear a somber reprisal of Allie's theme set amidst atmospheric performances of guitar, piano, and trumpet. This same feeling is carried over into track 21 "Allie Goes Upstairs," before BEAL returns us to the title (Hitch's) theme with measured intensity in "Hitch Settles a Score" (22) and "Riding Off, Appaloosa End Credits." (23). This final performance of the Hitch's theme is decidedly more optimistic than it is even at the start of the film. Concluding this promo release of APPALOOSA is a song, sung by none-other-than, Ed Harris! Both Beal's and Harris' goal was to deliver a classic, western song from the 50's era. The awkward little ballad evokes memories of the late, great Johnny Cash.  Additionally, Harris' contribution to the soundtrack can also be heard in the final track, "Ain't Nothin' Like a Friend" as co-writer of its lyrics.

For APPALOOSA, JEFF BEAL weaves an interesting musical score that, while faithful to the rich history of Western film scores, doesn't remain imprisoned by those same conventions.  Beal's long history in the world of jazz certainly makes itself heard in a number of tracks, particularly through his employment of the trumpet.  This in and of itself helps to separate APPALOOSA from other modern Western scores like the well-received 3:10 TO YUMA by MARCO BELTRAMI.  Further, there is a contemporary edge to this score that subtly gives the music greater weight.  Coursing it's way through the score, like the Rio Grande through the high desert of New Mexico, is a sometimes playful, sometimes menacing intricacy that makes the score worth a few repeat listens.  Like the film, Jeff Beal's work is clearly "western" yet there are subtleties that move it slightly askew of average. With Westerns and their scores still in the minority these days, those who long for such down-home-story-tellin'-music, may find APPALOOSA one that will likely fit the bill.

Rating: 7/10

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Track Title Track Time  Rating
1 Appaloosa Main Title 2:12  ****
2 New City Marshall 1:47  ***
3 Bragg's Theme 0:45  ***
4 Allison French 1:50  ****
5 Allie Teases Virgil 0:39  ***
6 Dawn in Appaloosa 1:45  ****
7 Cole and Hitch Stalk Bragg 1:21  ***
8 Bragg is Captured 3:05  ***
9 Apology Accepted 1:26  ***
10 The Kiss 2:31  **
11 Readin' and Writin' 1:52  ***
12 Allie Is Kidnapped 2:51  ***
13 Cole Ponders 1:03  **
14 Hitch Rides 1:39  ***
15 Finding Allie 1:24  **
16 The Indian Attack 1:38  ***
17 The Horse Trade 3:54  **
18 Riding Into Rio Seco 0:47  ****
19 Ballad of Rio Seco 2:37  *****
20 Shootout at Rio Seco 2:27  ***
21 Allie Goes Upstairs 0:56  ***
22 Hitch Settles a Score 2:43  ***
23 Riding Off, Appaloosa End Credits 3:45  ****
24 You'll Never Leave My Heart (Ed Harris vocals) 4:30  ***
25 Ain't Nothin' Like a Friend  3:15  n/a
  Total Running Time (approx) 50 minutes  




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