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Soundtrack review: American Folk (Ben Lovett – 2018)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: American Folk (Ben Lovett – 2018)

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“American Folk” is a 2017 American drama film. When their plane from Los Angeles to New York is grounded on the morning of September 11, 2001, strangers Elliott (Joe Purdy) and Joni (Amber Rubarth) are unexpectedly thrust together amidst the chaos of that historic day. With little in common but both needing to get to NYC urgently, they accept help from Joni’s family friend Scottie (Krisha Fairchild) who lends the duo a rusty old 1972 Chevy Van. The shock and stress of 9/11 quickly threatens to derail their cross country journey until the pair discover what they do have in common: a love for old folk songs. Armed with a pile of guitars left in the van from Scottie’s touring days, Elliott and Joni raise their voices together (and with those they meet on the road), re-discovering the healing nature of music and bearing witness to a nation of people who, even while mourning, manage to lift each other up in the wake of tragedy. Ben Lovett wrote the score.

A road trip movie like this with the title “American Folk” screams for an Americana score. The opening cue is nothing like that as “LAX” welcomes me into this score with an ambient electronic sound, soothing, reflective, my kind of minimalistic music. The second cue “California” guides that ambient sound with soft acoustic guitars towards that Americana sound I was expecting; it’s the quieter side of this sound, with the gentle violin, the carefully struck strings and the texture that evokes vast spaces. I like how the score evolves because with each cue the sound goes deeper into the American country side and this way the score gives me the feeling of a road trip, of a journey in which the more I leave behind the more is replaced with the present; even if the cues are short, the epic thread of the score marks a natural and believable evolution and it’s a very clever way to make the listener join the journey even if he doesn’t see the movie. I also love the subtle or less subtle way in which the composer identifies each of the states and towns the characters goes through by changing something in the music; the most obvious being the “New York” sound with the moody and melancholic trumpet.

“American Folk” is the kind of score you will know right from the start if you will love it or hate it; the sound is so precise, with such a clear identity that if you don’t like soft, minimalistic Americana influenced scores you will not enjoy this one. The music is peaceful, quiet and emotional in the same time and if you are in the right state of mind, Ben Lovett’s composition will charm and soothe you. I am more often than not drawn to this American countryside sound and mood so I enjoyed the score a lot; I am in fact sure that I enjoy it much more as music, outside the context of the movie, than I would enjoy it during the movie. The music accompanies me in my own journey and I must admit I wish this score was longer than the 22 minutes of gems we got.

Cue rating: 97 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 19 / 23

Album excellence: 87%

Highlights:
Lax
California
Cross Country
New Mexico
Texas
Oklahoma, Arkansas
Tennessee & Virginia
West Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey
New York
Red River Valley
There Are No Strangers

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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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