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Soundtrack review: The ballad of Lefty Brown (H. Scott Salinas – 2017)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: The ballad of Lefty Brown (H. Scott Salinas – 2017)

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When cowboy Lefty Brown (Bill Pullman) witnesses the murder of his longtime partner—the newly-elected Senator Edward Johnson (Peter Fonda)—he strikes out to find the killers and avenge his friend’s gruesome death. Tracking the outlaws across the vast and desolate Montana plains, Lefty recruits a young gunslinger, Jeremiah (Diego Josef), and an old friend, a hard-drinking U.S. Marshall (Tommy Flanagan), to help deliver the men to justice. After a gunfight with the outlaws leaves Jeremiah wounded, Lefty returns home with the names of Johnson’s killers only to find that he is being accused of his friend’s murder. With the tables turned, and with his friend in the governor’s mansion (Jim Caviezel) refusing to help, Lefty must evade the law and prove his innocence by exposing the powerful men ultimately responsible for Johnson’s death. A thrilling and action-packed Western, The Ballad of Lefty Brown is a story about loyalty, friendship, and the relentless pursuit of justice. I am always all in for a western, especially with a cast like this. H. Scott Salinas wrote the score.

I think western I automatically think Nick Cave and Warren Ellis but H. Scott Salinas has the tools to come up with the right score for this movie. Between Cave & Ellis, Beltrami and others the past few years have been great regarding western scores. Salinas knows the bar is high and opens with one of those delightful proper Western ballads in “Lefty’s theme”, a beautiful melody that makes me think right away of riding into the sunset. The Americana sound is subtle yet perfect and this cue doesn’t need more than it offers to become a classic. I don’t even have time to bask in that tender sunset because everything suddenly gets very chilli and uncomfortable with “Noah comes and goes”, a tense and menacing cue that reminds me of the tormented way in which Marco Beltrami writes western music.

Minimalistic and subdued is the way to go for me to fully enjoy a western score; this unique genre with its vast and empty landscapes asks for a slow burning composition with sparse motifs and melodies that somehow evoke loneliness and stark characters. I just love the cues that deal with Lefty because the music is enough to get me connected with the character and make me care about him with the simple and honest sound.

As any good western score there are moments that deal with the violence and tension and they are in stark contrast with the melodic pieces; Salinas makes cues like “Assassination of Johnson” viscerally uncomfortable and disconnected; there’s no light or melody in those pieces and I yearn for the melodies I just left behind. This combination of soothing warmth (I almost get misty eyed when I listen to the strings and the vocals in “Reunion”) and stinging cold is a bold and rewarding decision from the composer; it makes me experience the drama in the story without hurting the standalone listening experience on one hand or getting too emotional on the other.

For me “The ballad of Lefty Brown” is H. Scott Salinas’ best score yet and another gem in the Western revival of the past few years; the scores are top notch and I hope this trend continues. The composer does everything right, from the way he treats the heartfelt moments, those soaring and elegant melodies, to the discomfort of violence and injustice. The carefully played quiet piano motif that appears again in “Returning to Jeremiah” is my favourite piece from this score but only one drop in a collection of meaningful musical moments, from haunting vocal motifs to string or piano gems. Truly an exceptional score I didn’t expect to find here.

Cue rating: 93 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 30 / 42

Album excellence: 71%

Highlights:
01 Lefty’s Theme
03 Lefty Tells a Story
05 A Private Wake
06 Reunion
08 A Desperate Ride
09 Returning to Jeremiah
11 A Real Posse
12 Gunfight at the Goldmill
14 Speech and Shootout
15 Tom Meets His Maker
16 The End
17 The Ballad of Lefty Brown

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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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