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Texas Rising
  • Composed by John Debney and Bruce Broughton
  • MCA Nashville / 2015 / 75m

An eight-part miniseries on the History Channel, Texas Rising stars Bill Paxton, Brendan Fraser and Ray Liotta amongst many others and covers the events of the Texas Revolution of the 1830s which saw the people of the Mexican province rise against their government and ultimately create the Texas Republic (which was a few years later annexed by the United States).  It’s directed by Roland Joffé whose visual flair should at least ensure it’s great to look at.

After getting his film career off to a spectacular start with the exceptional The Killing Fields, it’s been a rather slow and steady (not to mention sad) decline for Joffé, whose last few films have barely attracted any audience at all and have been routinely savaged by critics.  But nobody could accuse him of not knowing a good film composer when he finds one – and for Texas Rising he found two, John Debney and Bruce Broughton (with the former enticing the latter “out of retirement” if you believe the publicity bumf).

John Debney

John Debney

The album doesn’t distinguish between the two composers’ music, with them jointly credited for all the score tracks, and to be honest I have no idea if they worked genuinely together or separately, whether one scored the entirety of some episodes and the other did the rest, or if they each worked on all of it (in other words, I know nothing whatsoever about anything, hardly big news); and while I’d be willing to take a guess as to who wrote what the truth is that you really don’t hear the joins.  This isn’t one of those multi-composer scores which make that fact abundantly clear; great care has been taken to ensure it works as a seamless whole.

The score on the album begins with a long, nine-minute suite of the main themes and it’s a wonderfully satisfying piece.  The conventions of western music are followed to the letter and that is a glorious thing.  The big, expansive, rousing main theme is just great and many others are packed into the suite, one of more martial bearing, an action theme and a lovely romantic interlude.  Not surprisingly the bulk of the score is drawn out from these ideas but there are more than enough of them to ensure the material isn’t spread too thin.  A darker version of the main theme comes in “Emily Arrives in Camp / Town Evacuation” then there’s a cheerful take on the jaunty military theme in “Anderson Wakes Rangers”, which is full of charm and grace.

Bruce Broughton

Bruce Broughton

And so it continues, lovely melodies being explored in depth, the romantic musical view of wide open spaces and beautiful sunsets delightful to hear throughout.  There isn’t a duff moment anywhere, but a few do stand out.  “Deaf’s Goodbye to Lupe” features a beautiful guitar solo and is one of the highlights without question.  The comic action of “Gettin’ a Whippin'” bounces along with infectious enthusiasm, later “Rangers Run Into Mexican Army” has the most wonderful Aaron Copland via Elmer Bernstein sound which has of course been parodied so many times, it’s great to hear it being treated with respect and done so well.

There are some darker moments too.  “The Alamo and Lorca” has a harrowing air; and there’s an earnestness to “Houston Addresses the Troops” which is certainly carried with some real dramatic weight.  “Mexican Ambush” is a serious piece of action music, rhythmic and exciting.  “Lorca’s Hanging Bodies” is as black as coal, stark in its portrayal of horror.

The oddly-titled “Santa Ana and Emily Sex in the Bath” sees the guitar return, with gentle string accompaniment, and is really very tender and beautiful.  The two-part “The Battle of San Jacinto” is thunderous and breathlessly exciting, first-rate action scoring.  The finale is very different from (but just as good as) the rest of the score, “Emily Rescue” like a country instrumental, catchy and engaging.  Things get wrapped up with a full-bodied (but only 90-second) version of the main theme.

There aren’t many things in film music history which are as plain enjoyable as a good western score done well.  And Texas Rising is a good western score done well.  It’s true that it is all done in a very familiar way – and that is of course what makes it so entertaining.  Hearing music like this for a straight-faced project in 2015 rather than a parody is both unexpected and joyful and Debney and Broughton have composed something so easy to listen to and enjoy, I am sure many people will finish playing the hour or so of score music and then just start it all off again.  (The rest of the album is made up of songs, Kris Kristofferson’s take on Tom Petty’s classic “I Won’t Back Down” and George Strait’s “Take Me To Texas” both being very impressive.)  Sit back, put the album on and let it transport you to another time and place; it’s a great ride, seemingly effortlessly fun and yet very substantial all at the same time.

Rating: **** 1/2 | |

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  1. ANDRÉ -- Cape Town. (Reply) on Thursday 4 June, 2015 at 10:50

    BRUCE BROUGHTON’S track-record for Westerns is very impressive…from the acclaimed Silverado to Tombstone. ‘The Best of the West’ compilation albums include The Blue and the Grey & O Pioneers – two standout suites. BROUGHTON’S The Ballad of Lucy Whipple was mediocre, unmemorable Americana, so it’s great that he’s on top form again for ‘Texas Rising’. And JOHN DEBNEY’S Hatfield & McCoys with its emotive, exquisitely orchestrated Americana themes, is wonderful. I’m not surprised that their combined talents elicited +4 stars from your detailed critique, James! Amazon won’t download their tracks to South Africa and, last time I checked, YouTube weren’t offering the music on their site…ditto Screen Archives. I’m presuming that you had a pre-release promotional album James, so am looking forward to the CD release by the retailers.

  2. ANDRÉ (Reply) on Wednesday 16 September, 2015 at 11:56

    James, I’ve been searching for a CD copy of this score since your review — no luck at all! Amazon ‘s CD is a SONG compilation and Screen Archives have never listed the title. Have plans to commercially release the album been scrapped?

    • James Southall (Reply) on Wednesday 16 September, 2015 at 17:24

      It does look like the CD has disappeared from the horizon. I haven’t seen an official confirmation but given how much time has passed I suppose it’s unlikely now.

  3. ANDRÉ (Reply) on Wednesday 16 September, 2015 at 23:56

    I always remain positive James – maybe VARESE will come to the party, or PROMETHEUS…incidentally, Luc van de Ven [of PROMETHEUS] has executive-produced a new recording of ‘Sodom and Gomorrah’. MIKLOS ROZSA created a magnificent score that included sensuous love themes, exotic Middle-Eastern geographical settings, and lavish, evocative symphonic passages(with the occasional Choral embellishment) to underscore this filmic recreation of the enigma that surrounded the catastrophe that enveloped those twin cities, aeons ago. The original tracks were flawed (a mediocre performance by the orchestra…and awful audiophonics) > the sample-tracks of the new recording are dynamic and stunning, thanks to the impeccable playing of The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, under the baton of Nic Raine and the production expertise of James Fitzgerald. I hope Luc van de Ven’s next project will be a rerecording of ROZSA’S ‘The Golden Voyage of Sinbad’, another brilliant score that will benefit from the artistic & technological professionalism of the PROMETHEUS Label.