(The soundtrack for The Old Way will be released by BMG in February 2023.).

The Western genre in film is probably one of the most enduring, and its also one that has been re-invented and returned to so many times with varying amounts of success. The Hollywood western such as The Big Country, The Searchers, Vera Cruz, The Magnificent Seven, andtitles such as High Noon, Shane, etc now being referred to as classics. The German film industry had some success with the genre when they began to produce sagebrush sagas in the 1960’s after which Italian film studios put their own edge on proceedings via films such as The Good The Bad and The Ugly, Django, and The Big Gundown, to name just three. During the period of the 1960’s and through to the late 1970’s Italy produced so many great, quirky examples of western stories. And these in turn seemed to rekindle the interest in the genre as Hollywood once again got into the saddle and started to return to the prairies and wide-open spaces. And also dealt with the western heroes of the old days dealing with the ever-evolving world in films such as The Wild Bunch. Clint Eastwood who was an example of the success of the Italian made western began to direct horse operas during the latter part of the 1970’s, and received much acclaim for his work on films such as High Plains Drifter, The Outlaw Josey Wales, and continued having box office triumphs in the 1980’s and 1990’s with movies such as Pale Rider and The Unforgiven. The western is a genre that seems to fade away for a while then it returns and comes back even stronger than before and so do the scores for them, we had the Copeland magnificence and Americana in the westerns produced in Hollywood pre-Sergio Leone, and then the rather easy listening examples as penned by German composers, plus the inventive and original content and approach of Italian composers such as Ennio Morricone which began in the mid 1960’s with A Fistful of Dollars and spawned so many scores that were totally detached from what had gone before but at the same time instantly screamed (literally) this is a western score. Then composers such as Jerry Goldsmith introduced their own brand of western film music in movies such as Rio Conchos and The Hour of the Gun, and as the 1960’s drew to a close we were treated to Jerry Fielding’s The Wild Bunch, which still stands head and shoulders above the majority of western scores that came before and after it. Of course we cannot forget the inventive style of French composer Maurice Jarre when he scored westerns such as Villa Rides, The Professionals, Red Sun, El Condor etc. And Greek composer Manos Hajidakis for his innovative music for the western Blue. An example of the western becoming in vogue once again was Silverado (1985) it was a movie that certainly spurred on the cinema going public’s appetite for more cowboys on the big screen. And was greatly aided by Bruce Broughton’s rousing and action-packed soundtrack.

A new western which is released is The Old Way, it stars Nicolas Cage and is directed by Brett Donowho, now the reviews that are in on this are not that complimentary, but the proof of the pudding as they say and one mans meat is another man’s poison are sayings that spring to mind, in other words don’t dis it till you have seen it. What I do know is that the musical score by talented composer Andrew Morgan Smith is in a word superb.

The music is commanding, melodic, action led and just so impressive. The score is fully symphonic and features solo instruments such as fiddle, guitar, and banjo, in many ways I was reminded of the style of Jerry Goldsmith, because of the use of strings, percussion and brass.

The composer utilising the elements effectively providing the action sequences within the movie with a relentless yet thematic underscore. One track immediately stands out during one’s initial listen to the soundtrack, The Ambush, is everything a western score should be, its powerful piece, that just does not let up, maintaining a strong and vibrant persona, via the orchestral elements I have detailed.

Andrew Morgan Smith.

The score however is not all driving and action, there are numerous quieter and even lilting and haunting moments. The composer putting the banjo to work in cues such as Jellybeans, which is a cue that I think gives a gentle nod to Copeland as it builds and progresses. The composer adding textures and layers via solo violin, warm sounding strings and subdued brass that act as a musical punctuation.

The composers use of banjo within his score is affecting, as it is not just used to relay comedic, jaunty or melancholy emotions, it is also an important component within cues that are darker and purveys wonderfully a sense of apprehension within these, Morricone did this in Once Upon a Time in the West, he took an instrument in that case a Harmonica that was normally associated with jaunty or homely sounding ditties and used it in a completely new way to convey a sense of foreboding.

There is also a sense of the highly dramatic in cues such as Still Good Man-I owe you More, in which the light and subdued meets the more ominous sounding parts of the score, the composer again bringing in banjo towards the track’s conclusion. And in cues such as Ruth’s Demise we hear the instrument again, this time surrounded by sinewy and tormented sounding strings, with woods and dark string layers with occasional glimpse of solo fiddle. This is a score that shouts classic western soundtrack, and one I recommend that you check out asap.  

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