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Soundtrack review: Free state of Jones (Nicholas Brittel – 2016)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Free state of Jones (Nicholas Brittel – 2016)


“Free State of Jones” is a 2016 American war film inspired by the life of Newton Knight and his armed rebellion against the Confederacy in Jones County, Mississippi during the American Civil War. The film was written and directed by Gary Ross, and stars Matthew McConaughey, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Mahershala Ali, Keri Russell and Brendan Gleeson. After surviving the 1862 Battle of Corinth during the Civil War, Newton Knight, a poor farmer from Mississippi, leads a group of small farmers and local slaves in an armed rebellion against the Confederacy in Jones County. Knight subsequently marries a former enslaved woman, Rachel. He establishes a mixed-race community, unique in the post-war South. The score was written by Nicholas Britell.

Now, no pressure Nicholas Britell, but out of 542 composers present in my personal index with approximately 1500 scores, you are the only one with a perfect overall score: two albums heard (“A tale of love and darkness” and “The big short”) and twice 100 / 100 cue rating. So I don’t even care what the story is, I can’t wait to hear the music.

It’s natural that a score for a story like this has pure Americana woven in its fabric. I love the minimalistic opening with the moody solo strings that evoke so much emotion with so few instruments. If there’s one thing I learned about the music of Nicholas Britell is that he knows how to dive into the emotional side of the story with ease and craft. I like how he manages to have his music to give me the impression of browsing through an old picture album with yellow pages and filled with important memories. There’s always an echo in the music that gives the feeling of remembrance and respect.

The score is minimalistic and quite dark. The marching motifs blend with the guitar inserts and make me feel as if I was part of the group. There is a special niche in Western / Americana film music that’s my favorite; it’s the one that Nick Cave and Warren Ellis created and there aren’t a lot of scores written like that. “Free state of Jones” is a welcomed addition to that small room where I like to find sanctuary from time to time.

The moments when the piano also has something to say are noticeable. There is a part in “Finding home” where the piano just drips like warm wax falling from a burning canvas. The score also feels quite personal. There is barely anything loud or busy in this composition; I feel as if it’s told from someone’s intimate perspective, someone who is able to shut out the outside world from time to time.

Nicholas Britell continues to impress me. He is making his way up on my list of favorite composers. “Free state of Jones” is a wonderful Americana elegy that moved me and left an echo inside that cannot be silenced.

Cue rating: 96 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 22 / 28

Album excellence: 76%


Battle of Corinth

Taking Daniel Home

They Took Everything

Finding Home

July 1863 / Loyalty Oath


The Letter

Let There Be Light

Hanging the Deserters

Killing the Colonel

The Free State of Jones


Voter Suppression

John Madison Knight


Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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