Carter Burwell – True Grit Soundtrack – Nonesuch Records 526752-2, 35:38 *****:
(Original Music by Carter Burwell; Cond. by Carter Burwell; Orchestrated by Carter Burwell and Sonny Kompanek) Score contains excerpts of “Hold To God’s Unchanging Hand”; “What A Friend We Have In Jesus”; “Leaning On Everlasting Arms”; “Talk About Suffering”; “The Glory-Land Way”)
A movie score can be crucial to the plot manipulation. With a mere notation or swell of an orchestra, a viewer can be drawn to the varied content of the storyline. Fifty years ago, piercing violin notes in Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller, Psycho (composed by Bernard Herrman), left an indelible mark on the emotions of moviegoers, The electronic pulse of Chariots Of Fire (Vangelis) was equally unforgettable, as a collage of slow motion running became poetic. Even a comedy like The Sting depended on the Marvin Hamlisch adaptation of Scott Joplin’s ragtime to build a visual sketch of Depression-era Chicago. Common among these soundtracks was the ability to enhance the narrative.
In scoring the Coen Brothers’ remake of True Grit, Carter Burwell has continued the tradition of symphonic arrangements for instrumental music. Together with the Coens, Burwell has fabricated the heart of the auditory themes from 19th century hymnals. Included are excerpts from several period songs. The arrangements develop from simple church piano structures to grandiose orchestral signature. This progression reflects the journey of the protagonist, Mattie Ross, a fourteen-year-old grounded Protestant believer, as she embarks on an epic journey to seek out and avenge her father’s killer. Certainly, the heroine enlists the heroic aid of Rooster Cogburn and Ranger La Boeuf, but unlike the 1969 version starring John Wayne, the focus is on Ross.
With evocative radiance, majestic landscapes and human drama are captured with plaintive beauty. The introduction of a French horn or violin crescendo works seamlessly in tandem with the visual imagery of the film. Some of the gospel songs, traditional and original, are interspersed throughout the soundtrack. “Leaning On Everlasting Arms”, one of the source pieces, had been used previously in the chilling 1955 film, Night Of The Hunter (directed by Charles Laughton and starring Robert Mitchum and Shelley Winters). Elegiac renditions of acoustic piano music (also poignantly effective in Ken Burns PBS series on the Civil War) are moving, delivering pathos and sentiment. The music is not extraneous, but vital to the flow of the movie.
Burwell has assembled a top-notch ensemble of musicians in the studio. The mixing is excellent, expressing the litheness of a simple melody, or dramatic urgency of orchestral coloration. A memorable movie will invariably have a memorable soundtrack.
TrackList: The Wicked Flee; La Boeuf Takes Leave; Little Blackie; River Crossing; The Hanging Man; Talk About Suffering; Your Headstrong Ways; A Great Adventure; We Don’t Need Him To Go; Father’s Gun; A Methodist And A Son Of A Bitch; Talking To Horses; A Turkey Shoot; Taken Hostage; One Against Four; The Snake Pit; Ride To Death; I Will Carry You; A Quarter Century; The Grave
— Robbie Gerson