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An American Tail: Fievel Goes West
  • Composed by James Horner
  • MCA Records / 1991 / 57m

After the success of An American Tail in 1986, a sequel was somewhat inevitable. It took five years to arrive, and Don Bluth didn’t direct it, but Fievel Goes West finally turned up, sending our rodent heroes off out west for further adventures. James Horner – who provided so much life to the first film with both his songs and his score – returned for the ride. He hasn’t scored many westerns – maybe two or three – and I believe this is the only one which has been released on CD, so even though it might come from a cartoon it still gives his fans a somewhat unique opportunity to explore a different side of the composer.

Horner being Horner – and I say this with a wry smile on my face, nothing else – it also provides fans of Aaron Copland the chance to hear a posthumous score by him, such is the level of influence. However, Horner’s own musical voice is so strong I guess that’s a bit harsh – it’s like a Horner / Copland combo, and it really is good fun. New songs – this time with lyrics by Will Jennings – are not quite so memorable on the whole as those in the first film, with the exception of the superb “Dreams to Dream”, an incredibly lovely ballad sung with a typically-cheesy David Foster production by Linda Ronstadt, and in the film in a lovelier-still version by Cathy Cavadini. “Way Out West” is quite clever, opening with whispering voices representing an old steam train, before some witty lyrics which nicely compare with “There Are No Cats in America” from the first score – then, the mice were considering how much better it would be in America than Russia; this time, the aspiration is to move out west, where things will be so much better. The grass, it seems, is always greener! “The Girl You Left Behind” could easily come out of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers – a rambunctious, massive western song which is yet another treat.

James Horner

James Horner

Score-wise, things open with an overture which reprises some of the main themes from the first film, including the Russian-flavoured main theme itself and also “Somewhere Out There”, along with an orchestral version of “Dreams to Dream” and some brief western nods through harmonica and predictably-bouncy rhythms.  “Cat Rumble” is an exhausting, great track, starting with a swing piece (Horner used to do them so well!) before turning into a thunderous action piece.  The shifts in style are more typical of animation music than Horner’s other efforts in the genre, but it’s still an entertaining romp.

“Headin’ Out West” is Horner doing classic western music, with a sweeping version of the main theme accompanied by harmonica and banjo which is impressive indeed.  The following “Green River / Trek Through the Desert” is of the more syncopated, Elmer Bernstein style, again a real treat.  “Building a New Town” continues the style, a classic western piece, but then “Sacred Mountain” introduces something new, with a heavenly choir opening the cue, which develops into something really rather epic and dramatic, frankly the last think one might expect in this score!  “Reminiscing” is a lovely arrangement of the “Dreams to Dream” melody for orchestra, culminating in just a short snatch of “Somewhere Out There”.  The biggest western theme of all comes in “In Training”, and the biggest Copland homage as well – it’s larger-than-life stuff, first-rate western music.  “The Shoot-Out” then goes into far darker territory, with a bleak opening, before a brief reprise of the earlier “Cat Rumble” theme, this time for solo clarinet.

Probably only James Horner could write an eight-minute through-composed track featuring long-lined melodies and grand themes for an animation, but that’s exactly what he does with the gorgeous final track, “A New Land – The Future”, a magnificent way to end the album, a great suite of music from the film, including a wonderfully rousing instrumental version of “The Girl You Left Behind” and another heart-melting presentation of “Dreams to Dream”. From start to end, Fievel Goes West really is a treat – recapping enough from the first score to be pleasingly familiar, but with plenty of new material besides.  Highly recommended.

Rating: **** 1/2 | |

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